Some parents are giving up on Mont Pleasant Middle School.
Parents of 20 students have requested transfers to new schools in the district, and so far, the district has moved four students to other middle schools, according to district records.
Four other schools offer seventh and eighth grade in the district: Zoller, Paige, King and Central Park. But all of those schools were essentially full at the beginning of the year, so opportunities for transfer are few, district spokeswoman Karen Corona said.
Last year, when students were also misbehaving at Mont Pleasant, the district had granted 34 transfers by mid-October, Corona said. She noted the number was far higher last year than this year.
Some parents have complained it is taking the district too long this year to decide whether their concerns for their children are serious enough to warrant a transfer.
Glenna Ryan decided not to wait any longer. A week ago, she enrolled her daughter at Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons. There, Cassandra said she is happy and feels safe.
But moving her there wasn’t an easy decision. All three of Ryan’s children had gone to St. John the Evangelist Catholic School — until it closed two years ago — then transferred to Schenectady schools, where they had all transitioned successfully.
Ryan was happy with the school district, saying district officials welcomed her with open arms, gave her a tour of her neighborhood elementary school and stepped in swiftly to protect her second-grader when he was teased because he does not have a left hand.
At the high school, she said, her eldest is excelling in International Baccalaureate classes.
But when her middle daughter, Cassandra, moved up to seventh grade this year, things went wrong. Cassandra was assigned to Mont Pleasant Middle School. Six weeks after classes began, she needed a police escort to safely leave the school one day.
It all began with a text.
Cassandra’s friend was interested in a boy but didn’t want to approach him herself, so Cassandra texted him to ask if he was interested in the friend. He told her not to text him, and that was the end of the conversation, Ryan said.
But according to Ryan, the boy’s sister looked up Cassandra on Facebook and sent her a message, using a system in which Facebook allows people to send messages to people even though they are not “friends” on the website. The message began with the girl identifying herself as the boy’s sister.
“Stop writing my brother,” she wrote, adding some juvenile insults. “Cuz I will beat the h---- out of you.”
Cassandra wrote a one-word answer: “Sorry.”
The girl wasn’t appeased.
“B----, I want to fight you,” she wrote.
Cassandra: “I don’t fight.”
Superintendent Laurence Spring said he wasn’t aware of the specifics, but the story is all too common: Students this year have exploded over seemingly minor Facebook conversations, he said.
“Like most school administrators, I believe Facebook is a gift from the devil,” he said. “Kids getting on Facebook, especially during the day, there’s no good that comes from that. These Facebook conflicts can become really difficult to resolve.”
Cassandra texted her mother frantically to say she was going to be beaten up after school. Ryan scolded her for being on Facebook but spoke with the school as well, and a school official offered to walk the girl to her bus, but Cassandra said she was still scared. The school principal had been struck during a large fight outside the school a few weeks earlier, and Cassandra didn’t think a school official could protect her.
So Ryan left work to pick her up. School officials also called a police officer to walk them to their car.
“She was on the verge of tears,” Ryan said. “She’s my drama kid, but I could tell she was really scared.”
As Ryan collected her daughter, the police officer was called to another part of the school to stop a fight, so Ryan headed outside with Cassandra.
The girl stopped dead.
“Mom, that’s the girl,” she whispered. Ryan saw a group of girls waiting.
They went back inside to wait for the police.
“They were very accommodating,” Ryan said, “but if I have to have a police escort to walk me to my car, what am I exposing my child to? That’s not an academic setting.”
And it wasn’t the first time something like this had happened, just the worst incident, Ryan said. In the first full week of school, a different boy had told Cassandra his sister wanted to fight during lunch. In that case, Ryan reported the incident and Principal Karmen McEvoy met with the girl’s parents. They set up a safety plan for the lunch period, and Ryan was satisfied the problems had been resolved.
But her daughter started dragging her feet mornings, saying she was afraid to go to school. Afternoons, she often came home with stories of misbehavior on the school bus. Ryan eventually emailed the superintendent to ask about transfer options.
“I never got a reply,” she said.
Spring said he did not recall the email. He also said things are getting better. School officials now ride with police, pointing out students by name so officers can take them to Family Court.
“When the kids realize someone knows who they are, they dramatically improve their behavior,” he said.
But there is much more work to be done. Some students are still misbehaving, he said, and the district is struggling to get some parents of suspended students to even come in for a discussion.
However, many parents have come in, and most of those discussions have gone well, Spring said. He’s now reaching out to church leaders and others who are respected by the parents who won’t come in for a meeting, in hopes of getting help to communicate with them.
But Ryan didn’t want to wait.
After the Friday afternoon police escort, Ryan closed Cassandra’s Facebook account after saving the threatening message. She also looked at Cassandra’s phone and questioned her about her texting.
“My concern was that she had instigated this,” Ryan said. “My concern was she was harassing this boy.”
She was convinced Cassandra had only sent one text. More troubling was the fact the girl who threatened her attended a different school. She wondered whether the girl would bring the fight to any public school Cassandra attended.
“I began to think, will she be safe at any other middle school?” Ryan said.
The cost of Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons weighed on her. She had paid for private school before, when she was married. Now, she is divorced and paying for a house on her own. She could not afford three private school tuitions.
But could she afford one? Over the weekend, as she thought about being escorted to her car by police, she made up her mind.
“If this is going to ramp up this quickly, this was just too much,” she said. “If something happened to my daughter because I forced her to stay in a school she didn’t feel safe in, I’d never forgive myself.”