OSSINING, N.Y. – In an attempt to get answers from the school district about the arrest of two students in April after an alleged sexual assault, nearly 250 Ossining residents packed AMD Middle School on Monday night.
The Ossining School District hosted the meeting to update parents on the school district’s policies after a news story was published regarding an alleged sexual assault among students in the middle school. Two eighth-graders were arrested and charged with juvenile delinquency April 26 after one of the students allegedly attempted to force a boy to perform oral sex in the school bathroom while the other student blocked the door, police said previously. The district released a statement Friday, explaining to parents why they weren’t notified before the news story.
But many parents, including Michael Aurora, said they should have been given a general warning or notification immediately. The letter came nearly three weeks after the alleged incident.
“Basically if it never came out in the news, we’d never know,” Aurora told district officials during the meeting, garnering applause from many. “You talk (about) words (like trust) and working together. I’m asking this, in front of everybody, you want our trust? How many incidents didn’t come out in the news that we didn’t know about?”
State and federal laws prohibit the school district from disclosing certain information about students, said Chris Powers, an attorney representing the Ossining School District.
“We’re not allowed to give out information that would be identifiable to the kids that were involved,” Powers said, adding that the district could have legally issued a general statement on the day of the incident. “I tend to agree with the position that the district took. We could share this very basic information, but the more information that you disclose about an incident like this that’s the subject of an ongoing police investigation, is problematic for all parties involved, in particular the victim in this case.”
Powers and other district officials said they would not comment on the status of the arrested students or the victim. The district could suspend the students, and a hearing with Superintendent Phyllis Glassman has been scheduled, officials said later.
Glassman hesitated on whether she would have issued a general notification to parents even if it had been recommended by the district’s attorneys.
“I understand the points of view here, and I understand all the legal parts of it,” she said. “But honestly I worry that that generic letter might have caused everybody to know the students instantly.”
Principal Regina Cellio said she believed in the district and the students at AMD Middle School. The district would respond to residents’ concerns “by next Friday," Cellio said.
“Three weeks ago, it was the most serious situation that I’ve ever endured as an educator,” she said. “Indeed, with the severity of any incident that could potentially ever happen in this school, I will have conversations with the superintendent to see what we can do for the superintendent to draft a letter to get it out to you so that you’re given as much information and so you as parents will be well informed."
Parent Garrett Boehling said he appreciated the district's steps in the future.
“I think you slipped on that initial letter, but besides that, I applaud the fact that we’re all here tonight. You can go to schools that will never have this problem,” Boehling said. “But we have to look at ourselves. We’re teaching our children to be a bully or not to be a bully or deal with bullies. And we can’t lay it all on you and all on the schools.”
The district was “pretty defensive” with its responses, parent Kenyetta Harrison said.
“They were talking about protecting the kids so that was good to hear, but I think we need to focus more on making sure we keep the confidence with the school, parents and administration,” Harrison said after the meeting.