A sixth-grader was attacked by two seventh-graders outside Kenmore Middle School last Thursday after school hours, and the incident has raised concerns among parents about how the school handles cases of bullying and violence.
According to Kenmore Principal John Word, a seventh-grader said the sixth-grade victim had called him “a racial slur” over the summer, and the seventh-grader and his friend waited until about 4:30 p.m. on Thursday to retaliate.
In the field between Kenmore and Carlin Springs Elementary School along S. Carlin Springs Road, the two seventh-graders hit the younger boy in the face at least twice, while a crowd of other students watched, school officials confirmed. The victim reportedly received bruises on his face but didn’t need to receive medical treatment.
An administrator quickly broke up the fight, the school said, but police were called and filed a report. The boy’s mother, who will not be named to protect the identity of the minor, said she did not receive any communication from the school until she went herself the following day.
The incident sparked concern among parents of Kenmore students, to the point where the school held a community meeting yesterday afternoon to address the attack.
“This was not random, it was targeted and wrong,” Word told a group of more than a dozen parents in the school’s library yesterday. “After interviewing those culprits, the victims and some witnesses, I was convinced that this incident should result in the most severe consequence I could administer.”
The seventh-graders initially were given two-day suspensions, Word said, but he decided to increase their punishments after the school completed its investigation. Word could not reveal the seventh-graders’ final punishment due to student confidentiality laws, but according to the APS Handbook, the most severe punishment allowed for incidents like “physical altercations, fighting and bullying” is “a maximum of ten (10) consecutive days out-of-school suspension, request for disciplinary hearing for additional suspension time and/or a recommendation for expulsion.”
While Word said he waited to reach out to the community until he had all the facts, that explanation did not ease the concerns of the parents at yesterday’s meeting.
“I’m concerned about my children’s safety at this school,” said a parent, who requested her name not be used due to potential “repercussions upon our children.” “There was no message given to our kids… The bylaws show that you have 48 hours to respond. Now we have all these kids hearing these things [about the attack], and they wonder why no one has talked to them about it in school.”
When the victim’s mother began to introduce herself at the meeting, she couldn’t finish her sentence before she began crying. She clutched a tissue for the majority of the hourlong gathering, while listening to the meeting’s translation by a Spanish interpreter sitting next to her.
The assault — which is how the school classified the incident — took place exactly one week after a separate altercation at Gunston Middle School. ARLnow.com received a tip about a seventh-grader at Gunston who, his parents say, was “sucker-punched” in the hallway during school hours. The victim had received “verbal bullying” during class and “a substitute teacher did not intervene on his behalf,” the parent wrote.
Assistant Superintendent for Administrative Services Cintia Johnson told ARLnow.com today that she couldn’t share specifics of the incident at Gunston, but confirmed that it “involved a student being punched by another student.”
“The professional responsibility we have is to maintain confidentiality and protect our students,” Johnson said. “We really do have a strong commitment to trying to ensure that students are safe and in a caring environment. These are two isolated situations that occurred in very different ways, in different settings.”
The police School Resource Officer (SRO) responded to the Gunston incident and another SRO followed up with the students involved at Kenmore. Johnson said the two incidents stood out to her as being particularly violent.
“I have not had this experience in the time since I’ve been in this position,” Johnson said. She’s worked for APS for 25 years, and this is her third year as assistant superintendent. “I see it as something that has required our attention as something that’s out of character and unusual for Arlington.”
Bullying and violence numbers have dropped in recent years, according to multiple APS officials. Even though assaults are rare in the middle schools, and Word said his staff “followed every step in the book,” parents said it was too slow and not enough.
“It has to happen much, much, much more quickly,” said a concerned parent who helped coach the Kenmore victim’s soccer team. “There was a time lapse here that upset his family and his friends. I know you said you went by the book. In the future, you need to go above and beyond. I saw [the victim] 24 hours later, and it was written all over his face that he was a traumatized young man and he needed some help.”
The Kenmore victim is now back in school, but the concerned parent said he was afraid to return. Word said he was confident students felt safe in his school, but the parents at the meeting disagreed.
“My sixth grade son does love this school, but he is scared to death for part of the day,” a parent said. “He will not go in the bathroom. He was on the soccer team and is afraid of some of the boys on the soccer team. Your feeling that the kids are safe here is incorrect. And I don’t think I’m the only one who feels that.”