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Mom says son bullying victim

School looking into texting allegations

NEW IPSWICH — Dealing with bullies isn’t new for her 14-year-old son with autism, says a New Ipswich mother. But on Monday things went a step too far when the bullying followed him home from school.

While on the bus ride home from school Monday, 8th grade Boynton student Matthew Conrad started receiving text messages, claiming to be from a girl that wanted to date him. When he arrived home and showed the messages to his mother, Annie Pelkey of New Ipswich, she was immediately suspicious, Pelkey said in an interview Wednesday. When she told her son to ask the girl to call him, or ask if he could call her, the texter declined and at that point Pelkey was convinced someone was playing a joke on her son, and had him call the number. On the other end, she could hear a group of boys laughing and calling her son names.

Pelkey said her son has dealt with bullying before, but this was over the top. “It wasn’t random. This wasn’t that they had seen a chance in the hallway and shoved him. They sought him out. It’s carrying over to when he’s out of school.”

Pelkey reported the incident both to the school and to police, because she says other incidents in the past, when her son has been shoved, had books thrown at him or was insulted, haven’t been addressed by the school. And when the boys who allegedly sent the messages were allowed to participate in Tuesday’s championship baseball game, she felt the school was ignoring the issue. She would like to see some serious consequences imposed, including suspension or not taking part in the eighth grade graduation ceremony. “They certainly shouldn’t have been allowed to play in that game,” she said.

Boynton Principal Thomas Starratt said in an interview Wednesday that when the incident was relayed to him Tuesday afternoon, the students had departed for an end-of-the-year field trip, and did not return until after the school day had ended, so the administration was unable to begin the investigation until the next day. The incident is not being swept under the rug, he said, and those involved will be facing disciplinary action and counseling as necessary.

Dutch Stauffenker, the Boynton Middle School baseball coach, said he expressed his willingness to forgo the championship game or bench players, should the school decide that was an appropriate punishment, but it was simply a matter of the timing that did not allow for a full investigation before the game was played Tuesday after school. “I made that clear. Our reputation and integrity is more important than a championship game. Whatever decision was made, I would stand behind [the administration] and support them on it,” he said in a phone interview Wednesday. “Right now, the investigation is ongoing. We don’t know the details of who’s involved to what magnitude.”

“We are disappointed in our students who were involved,” Starratt said. “And our first priority is making sure that the student who was targeted is all right. We have started an investigation into this incident.”

Interim Supt. Betsey Cox-Buteau said in an interview Wednesday that she could not comment on the specifics of the case, but said the school does not have hard and fast rules when it comes to discipline in matters such as bullying.

“It depends on the circumstances of the students, the extent of the bullying, and whether the student has a history of similar events. But we take it very seriously. Any incident is treated seriously, and we make sure a thorough investigation is done and appropriate action is taken. We’re very strong in not averting our eyes.”

Pelkey said she felt strongly that action should have been taken swiftly, and that the students shouldn’t have been allowed to play in Tuesday’s game. “Bullying progresses quickly. It could turn from name calling to a punch so quickly. If the schools are taking their time to handle it, it can get out of hand. If they had done something four years ago, kids wouldn’t think it’s OK,” she said. Pelkey said she’d like to see the policy for disciplining bullies to include a timeline for disciplinary response from the first report.

But Starratt said an in-depth process is essential to giving an appropriate response and making sure it doesn’t happen again in the future.

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