Port Chester High School students sign the “Don’t Stand By, Stand Up” banner, part of a three-week-long anti-bullying campaign organized by the 21st Century ASPIRE after school program’s advisory board in April 2012. From left: Kyle Thomas, 11th grade, Lukas Patrizio, 11th grade, Jeffrey Quinde, 11th grade, Eduardo Gonzalez, 11th grade, and Brooke Pietrafesa, 9th grade.
Port Chester High School students sign the “Don’t Stand By, Stand Up” banner, part of a three-week-long anti-bullying campaign organized by the 21st Century ASPIRE after school program’s advisory board in April 2012. From left: Kyle Thomas, 11th grade, Lukas Patrizio, 11th grade, Jeffrey Quinde, 11th grade, Eduardo Gonzalez, 11th grade, and Brooke Pietrafesa, 9th grade.
The teasing started in October, the beginning of Julie's freshman year at Port Chester High School.

"I give my daughter credit," her mother, Sally, told Westmore News. "She got up every morning and went to school every day knowing what the girls would do to her. I give her a lot of credit, because they were nasty and she had classes with them."

The names of Julie and her parents have been changed to protect their anonymity.

In addition to comments muttered in class, three of Julie's classmates made snide remarks in the hallway during school.

"They used to call her 'little rich bitch,'" Sally said. "'When you turn 16, what kind of car you gonna get when you turn 16?' Leave her alone. Barbie doll, used to call her Barbie doll. Leave her alone."

Some of the comments were made in Spanish, but Julie could still tell they were about her.

"It's like, they look at you and they're talking. It annoys me. I can imagine how my daughter felt in school when they're looking at her, laughing," Sally said. "We welcome [them] and I'm beginning to hate them. I welcome them into this country and they're taking it over."

Noticing her daughter coming home each day from school with tears in her eyes, Sally urged her daughter to report the incidents, which she did starting in January. School and district administration spoke with the three freshmen, but it did not seem to deter them as the comments continued. Julie's parents decided to intervene and reached out to the school. During a roundtable discussion with the administration, they were assured the girls would be reprimanded again.

The same day her parents were being assured the bullying would stop, their daughter was crying in an assistant principal's office.

"The day we had the roundtable conversation, my daughter went to one of the assistant principals and complained in tears that one of the girls was making fun of her in the hallway, laughing and called her a snitch," Sally said.

According to district policy, retaliation is prohibited. "Any act of retaliation against any person who opposes bullying behavior, or who has filed a complaint, is prohibited and illegal, and therefore subject to disciplinary action... Any person who retaliates is subject to immediate disciplinary action, up to and including suspension or termination," reads regulation 0115-R, the district's Student Bullying Prevention and Intervention Regulation. For students, disciplinary measures "may range from a reprimand up to and including suspension from school."

Julie's parents again contacted the school district and were informed that the three girls would all be suspended for four days right before Spring Break.

"They were told, 'Stop.' The one girl left her alone and she went back to school. The other two continued," Sally said. "After these two girls got suspended, they were cyber bullying."

The two girls took to Facebook to continue their tormenting, which Sally accidentally stumbled upon.

"My daughter said to me. She said, 'If you didn't see it, you would never have known, Mommy,'" Sally said.

Her family tries the police

Upset and angry with the school district's handling of the situation, Julie's family went to the Port Chester police to try and file a complaint.

"She was too nervous and shaking and everything," Sally said. "I told her to come with me. She didn't want to. I never dreamed she would try to hurt herself. I never dreamed that."

Luckily, the Port Chester police, worried about Julie, sent four police cars and an ambulance to her house and just in time.

"I was getting pissed at the cop because he was telling me he couldn't do anything for me and he was like, 'Ok, where's your daughter?' What do you mean, where's my daughter?" Sally said.

By the time the police and ambulance arrived, with her family shortly behind them, Julie had already slit her wrists.

"I should have never left her, but I got there in time, but it could have been worse than what it was," Sally said. "It was a nightmare. It was a mother's nightmare, a parent's nightmare."

Julie was transported to the hospital and then later to Four Winds Hospital, which provides inpatient and outpatient mental health treatment. At the Katonah hospital, she had to be constantly watched to make sure she did not hurt herself again and body checks became a routine occurrence. After being released from Four Winds, Julie entered a one-month educational program, Intensive Day Treatment, provided by the Southern Westchester Board of Cooperative Educational Services.

Once the school district was alerted, the two girls involved were subsequently suspended for one month.

What Julie's parents had asked for, however, was for the girls to be expelled or suspended for the rest of the school year and sent to summer school. Although district policy does not list those as possible disciplinary measures, the regulation states that appropriate disciplinary action is not limited to the penalties outlined there.

"They're outside running around and playing while my daughter isolates herself and is on medication," Sally said. "It's just who's the one getting punished? My daughter. I look at it, it's not right."

Julie's parents were told it is often difficult to prove that bullying occurred, which her parents argued was not so in this case.

"In this instance we proved unequivocally that there was bullying.

We have logs of my daughter going in and out of the school filing complaints," said her father, Tony. There are also the Facebook postings and student witnesses who approached the administration with details about the bullying. "You can prove without a shadow of doubt that there was bullying. They should not be suspended but expelled."

Sally was so angry that she even lashed out at the Port Chester High School principal to the point that the school district contacted the Rye Brook police to have it on record after Sally told Dr. Mitchell Combs, who she felt did not really care about her daughter, that she would shove his glasses up his ass.

District stands by its response

Superintendent Dr. Edward Kliszus, Jr. refused to comment about Julie's situation and the punishments associated with it.

"I can't talk about specific cases, but I can tell you we are well versed in Dignity for All Students legislation and we follow it to the letter. There are no missteps. Every case is taken in that way.

Our administrators go to training and they're well versed in what has to be done."

Each incident of bullying is taken on a case-by-case basis and the district's reaction is based on the circumstances of the case, the superintendent said. The district works to provide a supportive, nurturing environment where children feel safe and comfortable.

Even though he would not speak to this specific case, he did say that in all recent incidents, "everything was followed by the book."

Board of Education President Jim Dreves did comment on Julie's situation to a greater degree than the superintendent. Dreves was aware of the incident, but only peripherally, and could not remember if he had learned about it in the school board's weekly email update or if the administration had mentioned it to him at some point.

"Based on what I heard, it was dealt with in a very professional manner," said Dreves. "From what I know-and I wasn't sitting in on everything that was done-it

was handled in a very appropriate manner and the punishments were appropriate to the situation."

Dreves said the students involved were disciplined suitably but that he understands family may not agree.

"I know that anything like this is a very traumatic experience for parents and therefore anything that the school district does would be looked at differently by the parents than by somebody impartial," he said.

"We take bullying very seriously and will continue to take that very seriously," Dreves said. "I promise we will not have, will not condone, any bullying in our schools. Ever."

Tony, who spoke with Dreves, was disappointed that no further action would be taken against the girls.

"We were totally unsatisfied with the outcome and how it turned out as to the punishment of the those students," he said.

Furthermore, Sally and Tony thought the students in school should have been made aware of the incident. Without using names, the students could still have been told that a fellow student tried to commit suicide because of bullying.

"People need to know what happened here in Port Chester. That's what pissed me off. That's what pissed her father off. People need to know what's happening here and nobody knows," Sally said. "There has to be other children that are being bullied and they're probably afraid to tell their parents. Or maybe there's parents afraid to speak up. I don't know, but something has to be done."

Although there was a special assembly about bullying, there was no mention of any incidents happening in Port Chester and the students who attended were only freshmen.

"Her dad and I were not happy about that because it should have been for 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th graders," Sally said. "It should have been for the whole school."

Following his conversation with Dreves, Tony did have one positive takeaway, as Dreves said he would speak to the administration about making the district's bullying program more Port Chester centered.

"If it's broadcast to them that 'Hey, it's happening here. It's a widespread problem here' and work from that point of view, I think that would be more effective," Tony said. "When you hear tragic stories about something that happened, you really can't get close to the story, to the point that it's heart moving unless you can say it happened around here and that's what they need to understand."