Thursday, April 24, 2008

SFGate reports on bullying incident in Oakland

An upsetting story, "When school bullies get out of hand," ran as the featured item on SFGate.com this morning. Chronicle staff reporter Nanette Asimov tells the story of a 7-year-old boy who is severely bullied at an Oakland public school.

Asimov writes:

"Anthony Cataldo of Oakland first raised concerns about aggressive bullying at his son's elementary school last year after Zachary lost four teeth on the playground - but he said he received only a verbal assurance that things would change.

Cataldo said he complained again when some boys at school kicked 7-year-old Zachary in the stomach three months ago but got no response.

Now - two days after an older student slammed Zachary against a tree, fracturing his skull and sending the first-grader to intensive care - Cataldo is hiring a lawyer, and school officials are paying attention."

31 comments:

  1. Principal should be fired. School board should be raked over the coals. Fuck that noise.

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  2. The NYT did a similar story about a month ago, but about an older boy living in Arkansas.

    http://tinyurl.com/4akutj

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  3. Its utterly disgusting and shocking. I cannot imagine how that family feels, I could barely read the article. Poor little guy.

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  4. The school is 69% African-American. That can be pretty tough for a little white kindergartner.

    http://www.greatschools.net/cgi-bin/ca/other/251

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  5. The kid or kids who did it should be expelled, the victim should be given his first choice school through 12th grade as part of the settlement of his lawsuit.

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  6. ugh...this is so horrible. Breaks my heart.
    Imagine if it was your kid?
    The district or at least the school needs to be held responsible.

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  7. "The kid or kids who did it should be expelled, the victim should be given his first choice school through 12th grade as part of the settlement of his lawsuit."

    I totally agree.

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  8. oakland doesn't have many desirable middle or high schools to choose from, unfortunately. the general plan in oakland is to go public if you can get into one of a handful of elementaries and then go private after that.

    6:14- i don't think that 69% african american is the issue. i personally know two african american girls at this school who are fantastic and would not hurt a flea. sounds like an administrative issue which needs some addressing along the lines of the plan miraloma implemented (tribes program, more supervision, more support, etc.)

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  9. I agree it is unfair to ascribe this to the school being 2/3 African American. How many kids of color around the country go to schools that are 70% white? Including private schools in this region that claim to be diverse?

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  10. When I worked in Oakland 5 years ago, this was an elementary school with an excellent reputation. How could it possibly be that an administrator could ignore the parent of a child who got several teeth knocked out as a result of bullying? And, more importantly, could it happen here (I don't mean the bullying, I mean a school administration giving a parent the runaround in a case like this)?
    What recourses do/would we have?

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  11. I'm not disputing that the school should be on notice if this boy had previously had teeth knocked out by a fellow student. But, what surprises me is that there is no talk about the parent's responsibility for this incident. It did happen after school. Where were the parents of the bullies? Why aren't people outaged that the parents were so poorly supervising their kids?

    I'll fess up. I am a public school teacher (although not in Oakland and not in a school that has been touched by much violence, thankfully). Schools are asked to do SO much with so few resources. Where is the money to provide this supervision before and after school?

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  12. "The school is 69% African-American. That can be pretty tough for a little white kindergartner."

    This is such a racist comment and I don't see how it is relevant in any way to this situation.

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  13. i don't even know how to respond to this one. i'm trying not to judge -- can't imagine how hard it would be to be a single papa -- but i don't think i'd be capable of sending my kid back to a place where he got four teeth knocked out. i've always talked a big line about bullying not being top of mind in our family, and i do think this is a horrible aberration, but it does raise questions about a school's social climate. when i was touring, i got the sense that, in some ways, my kid would be "safer" at a tougher public school because these schools have to acknowledge and deal with any violence in their culture openly and formally. it is the denial of need for formal disciplinary structures and processes that sends up a red flag for me. that said, i remain most impressed with harvey milk's principal's statement re: bullying, which was, essentially: "we don't need a fancy program. we're small. we're a family. if a kid acts out, we assume there are things going on at home and we sit down with the whole family and deal with it."

    no teeth getting knocked out on her watch.

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  14. To April 24, 2008 9:41 PM,

    No, it really can be tough for a little white kid in a mostly African-American school. I transferred in the 3rd grade into such a school - in the late 1970s - and on the first day I was told by classmates "I gonn kick you butt." I had been at my desk reading when this happened, I'd said nothing. And they did kick my butt, many times, always unprovoked. I turned into a a shaking nervous wreck, my grades dropped, I was afraid to go to school. When I see some of the adolescents who get on the J Church and harass adults, I tremble for the little kids who must go to school with them.

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  15. I heard a rumor that Harvey's Milk's fantastic principal is leaving.

    Does anybody know if that is true?

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  16. Both my kids' schools K-8 constantly and emphatically advised parents that there was no supervision more than 15 minutes before school and more than 15 minutes after. Lakeshore has before- and after-school care (nonprofit but not free), and Aptos has an after-school Teen Center (free), but they're not drop-in.

    It's widely observed that it's often the troublemakers who tend to get to school before that and loiter around late.

    Of course there are often calls for longer before-school and after-school supervision, but the cost has to come out of other school needs. (There are also liability issues with leaving it entirely to volunteers.) And if you provide 30 minutes of after-school supervision, what if the troublemakers are hanging around for 45 minutes -- etc.? So it's not really so simple.

    The solution, or step toward it, would seem to be much more aggressive intervention with problem kids. Then that gets complicated when the parents resist the aggressive intervention ...

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  17. Its pretty amazing to me the amount of bored racist parents that visit this site. So many bored white people, so few blogs I guess.

    PS Its not the 70s anymore.

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  18. If parents won't cooperate perhaps social services will. Obviously the kids aren't getting what they need at home in that case.

    I feel badly for little kids who have screwed up lives, but I still don't want them hurting other kids. Nobody is learning anything in an environment like that.

    There aren't easy answers. Our society sucks when it comes to the underclass and handling the problems we've created over hundreds of years.

    Bored, disenfranchised, disaffected people aren't ever going to fit in to our supposed ideal world. Real employment and educational opportunities for the adults are going to have to open up before most of their kids are going to have a real chance to thrive in this country. Attitudes from government, voters, etc., need radical change. Raise your hand if you think this will be a quick process.

    Major praise to those school administrators and the parents who are determined and willing to work through these issues when they come up.

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  19. I, too, am amazed by the racist comments here. It really doesn't have to do with race, it has to do with the situation the bully encounters at home. White kids DO endure abuse at home also and bring it to school. This story in Oakland is about a home situation and how the school is handling this fact (or failing to handle it, more accurately).

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  20. Why racist?

    Would this kid have had his teeth knocked out and received a concussion if he were African-American? Have any other kids at the school, any African-American kids, spent time in the hospital after being beaten up at the school?

    I think the little boy was probably singled out for a pummeling because he is white.

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  21. I think a better question to ask is whether or not the story would have gotten any newspaper coverage if both the assailants and the victim were African-American.

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  22. "whether or not the story would have gotten any newspaper coverage if both the assailants and the victim were African-American."

    Good point. It wouldn't have gotten in the news at all.

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  23. Oh, yeah, parents of little white kids who get hurt - because they are white -- must be racists. Sure. That MUST be it.

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  24. I think if any 7 year old, white or black or whatever got a fractured skull after having 4 teeth knocked out, and the school did nothing, it would make the news.

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  25. No, it really can be tough for a little white kid in a mostly African-American school. I transferred in the 3rd grade into such a school - in the late 1970s - and on the first day I was told by classmates "I gonn kick you butt." I had been at my desk reading when this happened, I'd said nothing. And they did kick my butt, many times, always unprovoked. I turned into a a shaking nervous wreck, my grades dropped, I was afraid to go to school. When I see some of the adolescents who get on the J Church and harass adults, I tremble for the little kids who must go to school with them."

    I am sorry for your experience when you were in school. I too was a white kid bused across town to an all black community and did experience plenty of getting picked on for numerous reasons (I was white, I was a nerd, I did well in school, I was a dork, I had frizzy hair, I was Jewish, etc).

    Yet I hope the people reading and responding to this blog can step outside of their little cloistered world and realize that it is JUST AS HARD for ANY kid who is in a racial minority in a school (or other) context - not just the white kids.

    The assumption about the poor little white kid being overwhelmed by going to a school that is a majority African American is offensive and reflects the dominant (yes WHITE) social norm that African American people are criminals and dangerous.

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  26. "I hope the people reading and responding to this blog can step outside of their little cloistered world and realize that it is JUST AS HARD for ANY kid who is in a racial minority in a school (or other) context - not just the white kids."

    Agreed. Many, many, times African-American people have been subject to racism in school. They have been beaten because they are black.

    Would you attribute this to socioeconomic factors, a poor home environment, poor funding in schools, as some posters about said about the Oakland case? I don't think so.

    In other words, black people can be racists, too. Why deny it?

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  27. We really don't have reason or basis to believe the assault was related to the race of the little boy who was the victim. For all we know, the 5th graders who bullied him were pushing around/beating up lots of kids, of all races -- and he was just the one who happened to be unlucky enough to suffer a very serious injury rather than a bump on the head when he got pushed into the tree. I think it is wrong to jump to the conclusion that he was bullied because of his race and it reflects parental fears, not any facts or evidence that we actually know. Not to say bullying isn't scary in itself -- but don't assume it's because of his race. And we certainly shouldn't be jumping to attribute the bullying to the race of the bullies. I would agree with the posters who have characterized that conclusion (especially when jumped to based simply on the race of the parties involved, not any additional facts) as racist.

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  28. I haven't read all the stories about this, but was it actually reported that the assailants were african american, or are we just racistly assuming that to be the case because the school is 69% AA?

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  29. I'm white, and went to a predominately white middle school and was bullied by other white kids. Bullying is not a racial issue, nor is it economic. One of the biggest bullies I remember was white and from a wealthy family.

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  30. There was a letter to the editor in today's Chronicle about the incident, from a parent at the school:
    **
    Editor - Is it sad that Zachary Cataldo was injured after school last Monday? Of course. Is it sad his caretaker was not on-time to pick him up when school got out, and instead left him waiting in front of the school for half an hour? Yes. Is it sad his dad, despite knowing Zachary's history of altercations at school did not enroll him in one of the supervised after-school programs available at Piedmont Avenue Elementary? Definitely.

    Just as troubling, however, is Nanette Asimov's one-sided portrayal of the school, which completely neglects to mention the efforts of a small, but dedicated group of parents and teachers making an effort to improve their neighborhood public school. There are good things happening at Piedmont Avenue Elementary, despite what The Chronicle reports. This is a school that borders on the districts of Chabot and Hillcrest, two of Oakland's most exclusive and desirable public schools, yet has a student population where over 50 percent of kids qualify for free or reduced-price lunches because they are so poor.

    Where is the mention in the reporting of the countless hours on evenings and weekends Piedmont Avenue parents have spent in an effort to get homeowners around the school to come back to their neighborhood public school, instead of abandoning it for private schools? The efforts of the PTA, in existence for just three years, to raise funds to bring music, Spanish and other educational programs the district and state won't fund to the school? Where are the interviews with parents like me and my wife who have never seen any of the "violence" The Chronicle claims is so rampant at the school?

    Is our school perfect? No. Is the Oakland School District perfect? Certainly not. I would invite everyone to come to our school to see for themselves a neighborhood school made up of families from all different racial, ethnic and economic backgrounds working for a better future for our children. Or if you are truly concerned about the school, consider making a donation to the Piedmont Avenue PTA, working hard to improve the school every day. Due to state budget cuts, we have learned that our recess playground staff may not be funded next year and the PTA is looking into ways to fund staff to supervise students during lunch and recess.

    DAVID MARTINDALE Member, Piedmont Avenue PTA Oakland
    **

    (This is Caroline again)... so: I have a business connection with David Martindale, though I just knew he lived in the East Bay and had young kids. (Full disclosure: Nanette Asimov is a friend too, and client of my pet-care side business; her Corgi is in my lap in my teeny-tiny thumbnail photo.)

    I did talk to David about it this morning. The issues are hard to talk about when you're discussing a 7-year-old. As the school and district admins quoted in news stories have already hinted as best they can, the surface picture of a blameless kid getting repeatedly jumped by bullies and adults in charge turning their backs doesn't totally hold up; nor does the claim that the family was trying to transfer out of the school without success. Nor, for that matter, does the appearance of a massive number of suspensions at the school and a chaotic, violent place. David says it really is just very scrupulous record-keeping of mostly little hair-pulling-type incidents.

    The parents there are frustrated because this is a school like so many we're discussing here -- Miraloma, Sunnyside, Flynn, Alvarado, Marshall, Starr King -- a once-troubled school turning around, and suddenly it's notorious. They're gearing up for STAR testing (which is this week) and the place is swarming with reporters and TV trucks. It's just an interesting perspective.

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  31. I read that letter, too, and it reminded me of the many public elementary schools (and now middle schools, too) that were once fairly dodgy places and have been turned into popular schools thanks in large part to parent volunteerism.

    Anyway, he mentions in his letter that the school would like donations for its PTA. I would like to make a donation. I wonder if the PTA has an address or if there is a way to get in touch with him.

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