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Parents furious after Phoebe tragedy

Repeatedly called an "Irish slut" after she befriended some of the boys at the high school, Phoebe Prince had been bullied at school, on her cell phone and on social networking sites prior to her death on January 14.

She and her mother had moved from Ireland late last summer to be near relatives in South Hadley, a small town in western Massachusetts.

Although she quickly became well-liked by her classmates, some of the older girls resented her popularity, and the vicious tormenting began.

Parents who lined up at the microphone during the school committee meeting vented their anger and frustration over a situation they said has been historically enabled by passive school officials who are reluctant to confront and effectively discipline the school's bullies, some of whom include pretty and popular girls in the upper classes.

"There is a select group of kids who do feel they're entitled, whether it's through influence or affluence," said parent Luke Gelinas, who referred to that group as "the untouchables."

Gelinas, who has two children in the South Hadley school system, challenged Superintendent Gus Sayer to admit that the system is not protecting the children.

"Until someone stands up and admits failure here, a complete failure, we have nowhere to go," Gelinas said.

Larry Bay told the audience and school committee that nothing was ever done last year after he reported to school staff that his freshman daughter was being bullied.

Matthew Bail, a parent of two school age children, said that he moved out of South Hadley so that his children would not have to endure the physical and verbal abuse that he had received while a student at the high school.

"I was a middle class kid, I was not athletic, I was not the smartest kid on the block, and I got punished for it," Bail told the audience.

Although an anti-bullying task force meeting is set for February 23 at the high school, many parents are voicing concern that such an initiative is too little, too late and that the focus should now be on swift punishment of those students who taunted Phoebe Prince in the days leading up to her death.

Principal Dan Smith recently announced that two girls have been disciplined for their role in the tragedy. The District Attorney's Office in Northampton is looking into possible criminal charges.

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