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Investigation into alleged school bullying questioned

By Staff | Dec 10, 2009

Parents of children allegedly bullied at The Sanibel School addressed the school board again on Tuesday night, this time expressing discontentment with the way the district is conducting its investigation.

A half-dozen parents said none of the 27 parents who submitted a written statement to the school district have been contacted as part of the investigation.

They claimed that the district only contacted Principal Barbara Von Harten and asked her whether she believes something is wrong with the administration of the school.

“The methods being used for these so-called investigations needs to be looked into because no one has gotten a call regarding what happened, which is really incredibly disturbing,” said Sanibel parent Charlotte Harlow.

Claudia Foster, another parent from the school, claimed that the district is not giving teachers an open venue to find out whether bullying exists.

Her husband, Tom Foster, said the Office of Civil Rights – a division of the U.S. Department of Education – has identified red flags, as well as attorneys he has contacted.

Foster said he cannot understand how the school district has been unable to identify any red flags when other organizations have.

The Office of Civil Rights is investigating the Lee County School District and the investigation should be completed in two to four weeks, according to Lee County School Board Vice Chairwoman Elinor Scricca.

She said the district’s investigation cannot begin until the Office of Civil Rights’ investigation is finished.

Cape Coral resident John Traube, an outspoken critic of the school board, suggested that an independent investigation be conducted into the allegations of bullying at The Sanibel School.

“Have an independent investigation where no charges of conflict of interest can be brought,” he said.

Board Member Robert Chilmonik supported an independent investigation into the matter.

“One thing about investigations, if they don’t feel it is being handled in a satisfactory fashion, the problem is still going to be there,” he said. “Sometimes you have to take step back and let someone independent take a look at it.”

Chairman Steve Teuber said bullying in any school is unacceptable, but he stressed that an investigation is under way.

Teuber also directed the superintendent to consider creating a bullying task force to deal with issues across the county.

“As we stated at the last meeting, there is an investigation and we have to wait until that is completed,” he said.

None of the other school board members could legally comment on the investigation.

“We have our work cut out in the Sanibel investigation,” said Board Member Jane Kuckel. “I am not going to comment on specifics, but we do have something to resolve regardless of how the investigation comes out. We do have a split-school community.”

Scricca described the comments from Sanibel parents as “sobering.”

“I could understand those who wish to have a change and they are also perhaps impatient about it,” she said. “I understand your impatience, but I would also ask that you wait until the investigation is over.”