Months after an episode of well-publicized bullying at Tredyffrin/Easttown Middle School, school district administrators have proposed changes to the district’s safety policy after meeting with parents and security experts over the summer.
The proposed rules, made public Thursday night, address how educators should respond to student threats, notify the community about problem behavior, and support the perpetrators and victims of abusive behavior, said Mark Cataldi, director of assessment and accountability for the district.
The impetus for the changes, which must be formally approved by officials of the 6,000-student district, is the result of bullying in the 2017-18 school year against 12-year-old Nora Nissenbaum.
After the young girl received anti-Semitic text messages and an alleged threat from a male peer, she was pulled out of the middle school and enrolled in a homeschooling program, said Sandy Nissenbaum, her mother, who attended the Thursday meeting.
Christian Hoey, the lawyer for the boy, said Friday that his client was “never charged, ever.”
“This matter was taken under advisement in the juvenile probation department,” Hoey said, “and they ultimately decided they were not going to charge him.”
He denied claims that the boy uttered a violent threat.
The Tredyffrin/Easttown protocol suggests creating a “Multi-Disciplinary Threat Assessment Team … comprised of school and district personnel to oversee the threat assessment process and consult with law enforcement.”
The district superintendent or someone designated would coordinate training for the team.
Cataldi said safety experts do not recommend a zero-tolerance approach, in which a student is automatically suspended or expelled if there is threatening behavior.
Instead, the proposed protocol says, officials should assess if a threat is “transient” (“I’ll kill you,” a competitive student playfully shouts before a sports game) or “substantive” (“I’ll get you next time,” a student says after a fight). Substantive threats, which suggest a greater risk of harm to others, officials said, hold more weight than transient threats.
The parents or guardians of a victim and the perpetrator would be immediately notified, as would the larger community, depending on the nature and scale of the threat, widespread concern, and law enforcement recommendation, according to the suggested amendments.
“Our school system has a wonderful ranking academically,” Nissenbaum said. “We should also have a fantastic leadership role in our safety and our support of children’s needs, mental health, and emotional health.”