SPRINGFIELD, N.J. — Emma Spektor says she can’t bear the thought of being bullied for another year. As we reported two weeks ago, the 9-year-old fourth-grader refuses to return to Sandmeir Elementary School in Springfield, New Jersey.
That’s because she’s been assigned to a class with the same teacher and students as last year. She says she was frequently bullied in third grade by students who stole her school supplies, made fun of her birthmark, told her she didn’t belong in their class and called her names like "stupid" and "idiot."
She says when she went to the teacher for help, the teacher "said that I was a smart girl and could figure it out for myself."
Irina Spektor says her daughter always loved school, but her behavior has changed dramatically because of the bullying.
She submitted to school officials a letter from Emma’s pediatrician. It says Emma has developed a condition known as “school refusal with anxiety and stress related symptoms, which are significantly and adversely affecting her mental and physical health.”
The doctor concludes that “it is medically necessary to change Emma’s classroom assignment immediately.”
However, Principal Michael Plias and Springfield Schools Superintendent Michael Davino say an investigation has found no proof of the alleged bullying.
They have said no to her mother’s request that Emma be transferred to one of Sandmeir’s four other fourth-grade classes.
Emma has now been at home for six weeks. Her schoolwork is being sent home.
But, she says, “I really want to go back to school. I miss everybody there. I just don’t want to go back to my classroom with the bullies.”
A number of other parents say their children also are being adversely affected by Springfield’s policy of keeping students and teachers together for two or more years. It’s called looping. The superintendent has made the policy mandatory. But a number of parents have created a website called “limit looping.”
They are demanding that parents have the right to opt-out of looping. Sylvia Gils says her son’s academics are being affected. “To loop him with the same instructor who he showed very little progress with is concerning to me. “
She says continued bullying can also be a consequence of looping. Her son is in Emma Spektor’s class. She says she knows of three cases of bullying.
The parents opposed to mandatory looping say the superintendent refuses to meet with them. At a recent school board meeting, Davino said “I believe that looping is an excellent educational experience and I will utilize it whenever and wherever I see fit.”
While the debate over looping continues, there is some potentially promising news about Emma’s case.
The superintendent, in a recent letter, revealed that “two investigations were conducted, the second of which, by an outside entity, is ongoing.” It’s the first time Emma’s mother has heard anything about a second investigation.
In addition, the school board’s medical expert recently contacted Emma’s pediatrician, almost a month after her letter was submitted to school officials.
Emma’s parents are hoping the second investigation might result in her being able to transfer to another class.
The superintendent said he can’t comment because the Spektor’s have hired an attorney and are threatening to sue. We’ll keep you posted.