Hallsville School:  Controversy overblown, covered up or both?

Hallsville School: Controversy overblown, covered up or both?

Hallsville School parent Keith Katsikas provided notes and an audio recording of his meeting with Manchester Superintendent Debra Livingston about the conduct of district staff in the teaching of an anti-bullying lesson in his son’s fourth grade class.

In providing them here, unedited, we note that in an interview on Girard at Large this morning, Katsikas said all parties were aware of the audio recording and consented to it.  He also said after he was given permission, the Board of School Committee’s clerk was called in to take minutes of the meeting.

Below the SoundCloud player, you will find Katsikas’ notes.  ~Publis

Hallsville Anti-Bullying Fiasco – Administration Meeting Notes

The meeting began with general introductions around the table.

Those in attendance at different times throughout the meeting were:

  • Dr. Debra Livingston – Superintendent
  • Christi Michaud – Principal
  • Maura Leahy – Clerk of the School Board
  • Pat Snow – Innovation Zone Director
  • Ross Terrio – School Board Member for Ward 7
  • Rebecca Katsikas – Mother
  • Keith Katsikas – Father
  • James Ryder – 4th Grade Teacher
  • Patricia Auger – Assistant Principal
  • Laurie Evans – Guidance Counselor from Webster School
  • A Small Brigade of Teacher’s Union Reps

Superintendent Dr. Livingston started by reading what she called “the results of their investigation”.

We learned that there were five adults in the classroom when the lesson took place:

2 counselors, the teacher (Mr. Ryder), a paraprofessional, and a social worker.

The official report from the Superintendent states that Ms. Laurie Evans had hung up a paper cutout of a child-sized person, and that the person was introduced to the class as a new student to Hallsville. The students were given a piece a paper and asked to write down an insult. They insist that the class was not instructed to write down swear words. But an insult, that had been said to them, or that they had heard one of their classmates saying to somebody else. The students were told they needed to be serious and honest and the papers were collected and put into a basket. … At no time were the children told to yell vulgarities or swears to the paper child.

Superintendent Livingston and Principal Michaud both were adamant that no vulgarity took place in the classroom. When I brought up the fact that vulgar means, by definition (according to Webster’s Dictionary):

  • not having or showing good manners, good taste, or politeness
  • relating to the common people or the speech of common people

The superintendent responded with, “Well … we have a difference of opinion.”

She continued reading her official report and stated that the guidance counselor collected the papers into a basket and then had the children pick a random piece of paper from the basket and read the paper. They were not asked to yell, they were asked to speak load enough for the rest of the class could hear.

My wife and I then questioned the superintendent about the fact that the student were told to say it like you mean it. With purpose. But not just to read it normally? Ms. Michaud injected that that may have been misunderstood, because that piece of that, Say it Like You Mean it, came at the end of the lesson, when the students were apologizing. And from what I understand, from one of the statements from one of the councilors, that Say the Apology Like you mean it. That was part of the conclusion of the lesson.

So they had to pick out someone else’s word. They were told that if they saw the insult and did not want to read it, and in fact there was at least one student that was uncomfortable reading it, and that was fine.

They insisted that the student was not forced to read the paper, however we argued that in order for them to know that they were uncomfortable with reading the statement, they had to first read it. They were in fact forced to read the vulgarities. Steve then was asked how many kids in the class did not want to read the papers out loud. He responded, “about 5 or 6.” And if they were told they didn’t want to read it, what did they have to do? “They had to pick another piece of paper.” Steve was also asked by the Principal if the students were told that if they didn’t want to read the paper out load that they could give the paper to the guidance counselor and that she would determine what to do? “Yes.”

How many children chose to read it out load, and it was really bad? “one.” which one? “the one I told dad: You Gay H.O.R.E.. (whore)”

The superintendent then continue reading her report explaining about the ripping off of the pieces of the paper cut out of a “CHILD”. The amount of this was identical to my initial report––except for the CHILD!!!

The Principal explained that she interviewed some students from that class individually and that those students found the lesson to be “a good lesson”, “the teachers helped us to learn bullying is not okay”… I injected, “How can 9 and 10 year old children know if something is “A good lesson”? I mean, they may have gotten something out of it, but how do you know, that they got the right thing out of it?” She claiMs. that they understood it to be an important lesson. That it was powerful. One young lady shared with Ms. Michaud that she felt that the lesson should have been done in the earlier grades.

I told the superintendent that Assistant Principal, Ms. Auger, had called me the morning after the incident and had told my wife and me that there had been a written report (or statement) about the event and that there had been swearing that took place in the classroom. She had given us Laurie Evan’s name, place of work, and phone number and told us that we could call her to let her know how displaces we were about the lesson. I asked for a copy of that report. The principal stated that she does not have that report. She claimed that she had statement from the five individuals who were precent for the lesson as well as the student reports. That is when the Superintendent invited Ms. Auger into the meeting.

While they were getting Ms. Auger I asked for the Superintendent to confirm whether or not there was any swearing that took place in the classroom and they stated, “No.” None at all? I asked. “No.”  I then expressed, as well as my wife and son that Mr. Ryder (the teacher) confirmed that there was swearing in the classroom.

Ms. Auger sat at the table and I asked her to confirm my statements about our initial meeting, the meeting in the hallway with Mr. Ryder, and the phone call to my wife and me the next morning.

Her response was,” It’s gotta be what you say, what I say.”

I then said, “Oh my gosh, you’ve got to be kidding me.”

She responded in a very angry tone, “And I don’t appreciate you using my name, because a lot of the things that you’re attributing to me––this cold dread, and whatever else it is you’re writing––is patentably untrue.” I explained that I was describing her reaction to my son when he was describing what took place and frankly, her reaction was truly one of dread and dismay. She had no idea this was going on in her school and she could not believe that what my son was claiming could be true. She vehemently denied being upset or dismayed by the claiMs. and told me, “Thats your interpretation. I never said the word dreadful.” I then explained that I am describing you reaction as dreadful. “Well you can’t can’t describe my reaction.”

I declared that this development was very disturbing. I announced that this very clearly seeMs. like there is some form of a coverup going on here and I may have to get an attorney and take this to the next level. Because I’m shocked that Ms. Auger would actually sit there and lie to me, to my face, when I was there at this meeting with her. She was there, two feet away when I discussed this with Mr. Ryder.

Mr. Ryder then joined the meeting.

I just want to make it clear for the record that there wasn’t anything said or written in my report that didn’t come directly from my son and from the confirmation from Mr. Ryder. I would not have written this report without getting confirmation from Mr. Ryder.

I asked Mr. Ryder to confirm my claiMs. about our meeting in the hallway. He said, “Well, what I did say, the, I never heard any of the “F” or “S” words being said, there were two other phrases that they may have been interpreting as that. Ross Terri asked, “Was it the ‘F’ or the ’S’ words…”   “No, those I never heard said in the room.”   I then told Mr. Ryder, “None of what you said right now, is what you said to me in the hallway. In fact, what you said to me in the hallways, was, yes, swear words had been said, because that was what I had asked you about, and when I asked you how you could allow this in your class, what did you say?” He responded, “At the time it wasn’t my class. And I had instructed you, that it was the Principal, and the Social Worker, and the Guidance Counselor where in the room giving the class. I was a spectator in the back.”

It wasn’t until I reviewed to the recording of this meeting that I discovered that Mr. Ryder claiMs. that Principal Michaud was actually in the class. After questioning my son about this, I believe Mr. Ryder misspoke. According to my son, Ms. Michaud was never in the class when the lesson was given.

I then reiterated for Mr. Ryder’s benefit, that the reason why I wrote the report about what had happened in the class during the lesson was due to Mr. Ryder’s confirmation that there had been swearing in the classroom. Mr. Ryder then questioned, “What did your son say? To this day I don’t know what he said.” I then said, “My question to you [in the hallway] was very direct, was there swearing in the classroom?  Swearing is swearing, there is no other way to interpret that.”

Mr. Ryder confirmed that You Gay Whore and You’re a Bitch had been said out load, but denied that any “F” or “S” words were every said out load.

I then asked my son, “Just one more time for the record, while Mr. Ryder is here, I want to know too, for real, did any child in that classroom, during the lesson, say the “F” word, in full?”  My son responded, “Yeah. Yes. The “F” word with er at the end of it.”   “And that was said out load in the classroom during the lesson, by a child?”  He again confirmed, “Yes.”

Ross asked, “Do you remember which student it was?”

“Uh, I think it was (name withheld).” He wasn’t completely sure that it was (name withheld) who said it, but he was 100% positive that it was said.

Ross then asked if he was the only student who swear.

He confirmed that he heard at least three children say very bad swear terms out loud in the class during the lesson.

The Superintendent then continued to read the official report, focusing on the apology process, which was identical to my version (expect for the CHILD instead of the MAN.

She confirmed that some students did not have very insightful apologies. One student said that it was very difficult for her to have to apologize for something she didn’t do, and never would do.

I proceeded to explain my views on the lesson and how dangerous this type of lesson could be to some children, especially current victims.

Stevie brought up the field trip and asked why it was canceled. The Principal claimed that only 3rd and 5th graders went on this field trip. She was clearly trying to convince us that there was no connection between this class missing the field trip and being the only class to receive this lesson on the same day as the field trip. Steve told the group that Mr. Ryder had told them that they were going to go, but then told them later that they could not go because of their behavior in the class.

They welcomed in Laurie Evans.

Laurie Evans begins her explanation of the lesson. Most of it is in line with my initial record, so I will only add in elements that add clarification or that are completely new to the story.

Ms. Evans, when explaining about the paper cutout of a child, claimed, “We have a cutout, its usually a kindergartner. I usually trace a kindergartner. I didn’t have access to a Kindergartener, so I just laid it out on the table and did my best to make it look like a gingerbread… guy,”

When describing about the children being called up to read insults to the effigy of a child, she explained, “I explained to them that they are not to laugh when they hear one… that we’re being serious, we’re not laughing when you say it. Its not a joke. We’re saying it like… however they felt when they heard this.

I interrupt, “So, they’re saying it like they mean it?”

“Saying it like they mean it––saying it like they thought the person that… however, its up to them.”

She confirmed that there were children who did not want to read the insults, so she had them either pick another or Ms. Evans could do yours and the child could still have a piece off the child effigy.

Ms. Evans admits that at the end of the lesson she discovered that one girl had been the vicim of bullying and that girl had said that she did feel the same. [I have to assume she was talking about the same as the effigy, torn apart, disfigured, broken…]

Ross asked Ms. Evans, “How long have you been doing this lesson?”

“About 9 years,” she said. “I don’t know the first time I ever did it.”

“But it’s pretty much the same lesson?” Ross asked.

“I’ve done this lesson in this district,” she continued, “And I’ve done this lesson for other districts.”

I said, “I want to make sure that it’s clear. My son said that it was pretty clear that the kids were supposed to read these things like they meant it. Like it was a real thing.”

“Yeah,” she said.

“Not like giggling or joking…”

“Yes,” she confirmed.

“Not just read like (in a somber tone) Oh, you’re dumb. No, you like really had to say it…”

“Say it to the person and move on,” she finished.

My son then had a question. “Yeah, but there was swearing. Why didn’t you stop them from saying a swear?”

“I don’t recall swearing,” she said.

“Yeah,” my son confirmed. “Someone said, You Gay H.O.R.E (whore). That’s a swear. Why didn’t you stop that?”

“Hmmm… that’s a good point,” she said.

“And some people also said the “F” word and the “D” (might have said “B”) word. Some people have said the full words of those.”

“You know, that’s a good point,” she said again.

She denied hearing the full words of the “F” word, which my son so admittedly swears (pardon the pun) he clearly heard said out load.

“I will tell you something that I have noticed,” she started. “You know in some families––and I agree with your family––that every family has what’s right and wrong in the family. And there are some families that that ho and gay are swears. And there are some families that think those aren’t.”

I explained to Ms. Evans my concerns about abused, depressed victims being exposed to this type of lesson.

The matter of Ms. Evans instructing the children to write down swear words came up and my son said what he remembered her saying. “She said to write insults on the piece of paper, and she gave us a piece of paper, and the insults has to be an insult that someone has called you, and if it’s a swear you can put it on the paper.”

“I said that it had to be something that someone said to you––”

“Yeah.”

“––or something you heard that was still on your mind that was upsetting to you. Or maybe something that maybe you said that you feel sorry about.”

“Yeah, and if its a swear, it’s okay, just put it on the piece of paper,” he insisted. “That’s what you said.”

“A child did ask me,” she started, “A child in that class said that someone called me a swear. Can I put that? I said, if that bothers you, you can put it down and when we get to that, we’ll work it out.”

“Okay,” I said. “So then you did say it? You may not have said it the way he said it, but you did say it.”

Ross questioned, “So what were your plans when you got to that word? To not read it, or…?”

“And if a child drew it out of the hat, they’re going to read it, potentially,” I said. “So you’re just going to deal with it at that time? That’s ridiculous.”

“Clearly there were lots of kids who didn’t write swear words. Clearly there were lots of kids who apparently censored themselves. But the only thing that I want to make sure that we’re clear on is that you did indicate, in some form or another, that it was okay to write down a swear, if that’s what you want to write down. And you did say that… correct?”

“I said you need to write what you’re comfortable with and what was told to you that bothered you.”

My son had another question. “When you heard someone say a swear––like the full word––why didn’t you stop it? Like you said, H.O.R.E. (whore). Why didn’t you stop him from saying that? Why didn’t you tell him to stop saying that word, because it’s bad. Why didn’t you stop it? Because you’re supposed to be role-models.”

“When a child did say a swear word, or a something that’s crossing the line or about to, did you say, we need to keep this clean? We don’t want to actually say swear words, even if it’s written on the paper? Did you say that?”

“Whether or not ‘ho’ is a swear word is subjective,” she said.

“Well, ‘ho’ wasn’t said,” I had to remind her. She then attempted to say that ‘ho’ was the word that was said in the class and was the word my son was trying to spell. I had to explain to her that WHORE was the word that was said in the class and the word my son was attempting to spell.

The superintendent then injected a good question. “So this lesson was about 45 minutes long. In your experience, when you’re going through the lesson, do you have teachable moments with kids, when kids say or do something inappropriate you help them work through that?”

“The whole entire thing is a teaching moment,” Evans stated.

“What happen after that person said, You Gay …” my wife said, not wanting to say the last word, WHORE. “Did she just go rip apart his body or… what happened?”

“She ripped off a part of the body. She didn’t say it was bad. She just acted like it was nothing.”

“So that wasn’t… they didn’t talk about it with the class?”

“After he said that bad word, he just ripped the piece of paper off. She didn’t say it was bad.”

I said, “If you say that every moment is a teachable moment, wouldn’t it have make sense, when a child said something really graphic, like, You’re a Gay Whore, to say, this is extremely hurtful, and why, and why you shouldn’t say that?

After Ms. Evans left the room, I brought a NH State Law regarding the training and assessment of bullying / anti-bullying and one thing that I highlighted is that any such program for pupils shall be written and presented in age appropriate language. And it seeMs. to me the most, if not all of the language in that classroom was inappropriate for the age group of 9 and 10-year-olds.”

“I would disagree,” Principal Michaud said. Ms. Michaud claimed that she put her faith in the five individuals that she consulted with and that she called upon to deliver a positive intervention in that class and that the lesson was just as she expected it to be.

Ms. Michaud then wished to share direct quotes made by the children she interviewed separately, if you don’t mind.

“I think it was a good lesson. The teachers helped us learn that it’s not okay to bully. They gave good examples. We knew it was a paper person and it was impossible to hurt a piece of paper. I think they had really good teaching skills. Because some kids in our class bully and I think that what happened to the paper person is like what happens to us. We couldn’t put the paper person back together again. You know, like no matter how hard you try the person who is bullied, is never the same.”

“We are asked to write on a piece of paper something that were heard, that were said, or something that was said to us. We folded it and put it in the basket. One at a time, we each pulled out a paper and said what was on it to the paper cutout. A couple of the papers had swears. We could put it back and take another one. It was good, because it taught people how to behave, and that you can’t take something back after it’s been said because it hurt someone else. I think that little kids should do this lesson, so that when they grow up and get bigger they won’t become a bully.”

The Superintendent closed the meeting by asking, “What would you like to see happen?”

“I just need to be clear, for the record, so everyone understands, our children are going to be homeschooled.”

Ross Terri, “All three of them?”

“Yes. All four of them, I have another one that will be entering soon. My purpose is to try to make sure children are safe. Anti-bullying courses are incredibly important. And I think this one, as I mentioned earlier, for the sake of argument, lets just say there wasn’t a single swear word mentioned. The lesson, the way I see it, the way I understand it, the way you described it is not a very good lesson. And if anything, this situation, this series of events that have unfolded, and the research that I have done over the last few days, has really opened my eyes and has made me an advocate for anti-bullying causes and I want to make sure that the right things are taught. I think that this particular lesson is potentially dangerous. And I really think that it shouldn’t be taught. This particular lesson––and I may need to do a lot of research and contact a lot of people to find out what kind of lessons are being taught, to find out if there are any other that are bad. I’d like to find out what lessons are being taught, who they’re being taught to, why they’re being taught to specific groups and not others, and try and figure out if there’s any way to get this done better, because I really believe that this was an inappropriate lesson to be just blanketed taught to a whole class of children.

“I think the moral of this lesson wasn’t even entirely truthful.” I explained after my wife injected that our son came home thinking that if you swear at someone they can never be put back together. They can never again be the same, which simply isn’t true. “Victims can be brought out of a whole… it can be done, and especially if they haven’t been bully for very long, or abused for too long, then can be made whole again. I think the moral of this lesson … was a little too extreme.”

“Research has shown that the bystander has to be educated…” she said.

“Of course they do, but not at that extreme level,” I said.

“…So they understand what bullying looks like, what it sounds like…”

“That can be done without the children getting up and reenacting it. I don’t think it’s appropriate for a child––my son, or any other son or daughter––to have to get up, and reenact a bullying event as a perpetrator, in order to learn why it’s wrong. So, let’s have a lesson like this on drug use and teach our kids why drug use is so horrible by having them reenact drug use.  Let’s give a lesson on spousal abuse to demonstrate how it’s so horrible by demonstrating, reenacting spousal abuse. This doesn’t make any sense to me.”

Superintendent. “So coming back to what you would like done, just let me make sure that I understand you. You would like to have the lesson reevaluated and basically a decision made about giving this lesson in this way again?”

“Definitely,” I said. “And also, if there are lessons that are of this nature that potentially could be controversial, like this one, I really think it should be mandated that a notice go home to parents, giving them the option to at least get apprised of what the lesson is going be so they can make a judgement of whether or not their child should be involved.”