MCS seeks calm after assault plot

Aide is hired to assist girl who was target

By Matthew J. Perry
The administration at Margaretville Central School has brought in a conflict resolution specialist and an extra aide to help restore calm in the second-grade classroom after a plot allegedly hatched by several students against a girl in the class. For the remainder of the school year, the aide will assist in the class and provide “an extra set of eyes,” said Superintendent John Riedl.
On June 9, the entire class met with Duke Fisher of Learning Laboratories of Bainbridge. Fisher has a long-standing relationship with MCS as a consultant and mediator, according to Riedl. Monday’s meeting with the second-graders was the latest in a series Fisher has conducted with administrators, parents and students; he is not expected to hold any more meetings for the remainder of the school year, according to the MCS administration.
A parent of a second-grader, who asked to remain anonymous, stated that she felt the latest meeting had gone “very well,” and would help the class to learn better communication after last month’s events. “The meeting wasn’t geared toward the incident at all,” the parent said. “The kids played cooperative games, as opposed to competitive games. The point was to help them find better ways to handle things that happen.”
The parent stressed that she felt most children in the class had “moved on” from last month’s events and expressed hope that the school and community could follow the children’s lead.
Riedl, and building principal Linda Taylor, both expressed complete confidence in Fisher’s abilities. “As far as I’m concerned we have the best person available,” said Riedl.
Seven members of the class were charged with fifth-degree conspiracy after a parent reported on plans to physically harm the girl to school authorities. After looking into the matter, MCS administration contacted state police and then the parents of children involved, according to Riedl. Allegedly, the students behind the plot had drawn scenarios in which the girl was to be injured.
The girl, who was the subject of the plotting, returned to school last week.

Conflict ID
Faced with surprise and criticism from many corners of the community, the MCS administration is also working to create a plan for identifying and containing conflicts between students before the safety of students is threatened, or perceived to be threatened.
“There was no protocol,” said Riedl, referring to the incident. “We do have a methodology for dealing with conflicts, but this was a strange situation. It’s important that we develop a plan and resolve this issue now.”
Taylor also stressed that school officials should have a greater awareness of how to report on conflicts between students.
Some parents have suggested that the school needs a staff member who could act as a liaison between students and the administration, and make it easier for children to report incidents of bullying without fear of taking punishment themselves. Riedl dismissed the possibility of creating a new position in the 2008, stating that the budget has been approved and cannot be amended to include a new salary.
“The community can always say they want it, provided they’re willing to pay for it,” he said. “But for the coming year the budget is in place.”
MCS Board President Al Tanzer suggested that a committee tasked with studying and discussing bullying in school could help. “It’s almost meaningless, the term ‘bullying’,” he said, suggesting that the origins of fights are often too murky to assign blame to one student.
With less than two weeks remaining in the school year, many people who spoke about the events expressed a desire to turn the page. “Hopefully, the kids have all learned a lesson,” said Tanzer.
However, precautions are still being taken beyond the second-grade classroom. Recently, graffiti were discovered in a school bathroom that referred to last month’s incident. “We can’t be sure who did it,” Taylor said. “The bathroom is in a common hallway, and any number of kids could have gone in there.”
The bathroom is now locked. “Students who want to use that bathroom have to be accompanied by a teacher or an aide,” said Taylor.