Severe punishment possible after bullying/suicide at Bayville, NJ school
😠 Gov. Murphy says he is "extremely angry" over bullying at Bayville high school
🔹 14-year-old students died by suicide after being attacked by four girls
🔹 State education officials could move to take over the school district
The Central Regional School District in Ocean County is almost certain to face punishment from the state for the way they handled the bullying of a 14-year-old student.
Gov. Phil Murphy seemed to suggest on Thursday it is not a matter of if his administration will act to punish the district, only a question of how.
A group of girls attacked Adriana Kuch inside the Bayville high school. After video of the attack was posted online, Adriana took her own life.
Speaking at an unrelated event, Murphy said, "I was asked if everything was on the table and the answer is it has to be on the table."
Murphy called the incident an awful tragedy, "It just rips your heart out and it's extremely angering."
The governor was also harshly critical of former Superintendent Triantafillos Parlapanides and his handling of the situation.
Parlapanides abruptly resigned after revealing personal information about Adriana to a reporter. It was a conversation he may have thought was off the record but the reporter published the comments.
It has also been learned that school officials did not report the physical assault on Adriana to the police.
A subsequent investigation by the Ocean County prosecutor has resulted in harassment charges against four students. One of the students is also facing charges of conspiracy to commit aggravated assault.
Despite the resignation, Parlapanides is still reportedly still being paid his $196,000 per year salary. Murphy was clearly not happy to hear that, saying, "When you hear that the superintendent after what he didn't do and then said, is still on the payroll is outrageous."
Culture of Bullying?
At the most recent meeting, hundreds of angry parents and students blasted the school board for allowing school officials to look away from bullying incidents. They said while the case of Adriana Kuch was certainly tragic, it was not an isolated case.
Freshman Emma Smith told the school board, "We're scared to walk in the hallway of Central. We're terrified we're going to get picked on and jumped because that's all that's been happening."
Gov. Murphy also said, "It feels like a culture of bullying."
School officials announced a series of steps they were taking immediately, including an independently run hotline for students and parents to report bullying incidents and an independent review of the district's anti-bullying policies.
What could happen
The New Jersey Department of Education has broad powers over New Jersey's 599 school districts.
Punitive measures could range from designing a corrective plan of action with set benchmarks to a full state takeover of the Central Regional School District.
The Murphy administration could also withhold school aid, though that is unlikely.
Typically, the Department of Education has initiated the takeover of a school district due to academic issues, but their power to do so is not limited to school performance issues only.
With a criminal investigation now underway, Murphy made clear any action by the state "would separate than the channel led by the Ocean County prosecutor."
Murphy did question who should be running the district, but did not get into any specifics.
Murphy has threatened school districts before
Gov. Murphy has not been shy about issuing threats to districts that are not up to his standards.
The two most recent instances surrounded compliance with COVID mandates and changes to what and how districts teach sex education.
In August of 2021, just before students would return to in-person instruction, some school districts and many parents pushed back on the governor's mandatory mask policy. Murphy warned, "Our in-school masking policy is not a polite suggestion. We do not, and will not, take lightly any school or district that tries to finagle their way out of their responsibility for protecting public health."
When Middletown and Wayne schools tried to make it easier for parents to opt out of masking requirements, Murphy threatened to take them to court.
Schools that tried to circumvent controversial new sex-ed standards at the start of this school year were warned they could be subject to a state takeover of the district and the potential loss of state aid.