Maplewood Schools / Kids South Orange Towns

Baseball Parent Charges SOMSD with Continued Failure to Address Bullying

The issue of bullying in Columbia High School’s sports programs was again a topic of conversation at the most recent Board of Education meeting on Monday.

Parent Randy Nathan spoke about the harrassment he said has affected his son, formerly a player on the CHS Varsity Baseball team. Nathan, an anti-bullying advocate and author, has criticized the way the school has handled Harassment-Intimidation-and Bullying (HIB) claims involving his son and other players.

Later on Monday night, the board voted to introduce several revised policies concerning the sports program, including appropriate conduct for coaches, parents and staff. The policies are part of an overall district push to educate teachers, administrators, coaches and parents about the state’s anti-bullying law, and to improve its communication efforts as it investigates reported bullying incidents.

“Everyone is on notice that the individuals…must be compliant with those very important rules and regulations…,” said in-house counsel and Anti-Bullying Coordinator Phil Stern. Policy and Monitoring Committee member Donna Smith said the committee reviewed every area of sports-related policies to ensure they were aligned with laws, policies and the district’s mission statement. BOE President Elizabeth Baker noted that the policies are only the beginning of a longer-term work on the district’s sports programs.

Those policies can be found here: https://nj.somsd.schoolboard.net/node/3225/attachments. The board will vote on final passage at its February meeting.

Nathan’s son Alex was the starting centerfielder during the 2014 season. He was cut on March 11 for the 2015 season, then immediately put back on the team days later — only to be met with further harassment, Nathan said. He and another player who said he was targeted eventually quit the team.

Nathan complained to the New Jersey Department of Education that his son had been cut as retaliation for his father’s outspokenness. After an investigation, the state confirmed the district did not follow the law’s reporting timeline and also said the investigation should have been conducted by the school’s designated anti-bullying specialist. (The state said it did not have enough evidence to rule on Nathan’s complaint of retaliation.)

As a result, the state said SOMSD was required to send its next five investigation reports to the Essex County Office of Education to verify it is following timelines; conduct proper staff HIB training; and have an anti-bullying specialist conduct all HIB investigations.

Supt. Dr. John Ramos wrote to Nathan in August 2015, that “…procedural timelines have come and gone…[and that your family] have had experiences with the baseball team that give me cause for great concern.” Ramos said the initial finding that Alex’s not making the baseball team was not an HIB violation would be reversed, and all of Nathan’s other complaints would be found in his favor.

In addition, Ramos told Nathan the district would consult with the state to ensure full compliance with the HIB act. He also said while he couldn’t comment on steps he took regarding district staff, “…rest assured, appropriate messages also have been delivered and understood.”

Regarding Nathan’s bullying allegations, the district found that “that the Columbia High School Baseball Program as a whole contained instances of harassment, intimidation and bullying throughout the season for certain players.”

However, Nathan said that little has changed; “I have sat back for over a year and half with false promises by a number of people on this board, in this school administration,” he said Monday. “I am not going away. My son was not the only one impacted. We have ten cases of HIB. And you allow this to go on with no resolution.” He concluded, “My son has still not been apologized to. Accept responsibility.”

Nathan told The Village Green that if the district had followed the law and done its job, “we as parents could have been allowed to have this addressed in the fall and not have this being drawn out over the entire school year and more.”

The district did not respond to repeated requests for comment on Nathan’s allegations or its findings of HIB incidents.

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