The video footage is six months old, captured from multiple angles by teens with mobile phones in a Kopachuck Middle School classroom.
In the images, more than a dozen students drag a smaller boy around the room, holding him like a hammock, peeling off his socks, writing on his feet, stuffing a sock in his mouth, holding a pillow over his face and covering him with chairs.
The spectacle goes on for 15 minutes, watched by a teacher, John Rosi, who joins in and smiles. At one point, he mugs for the phone cameras.
Rosi pokes the boy in the stomach, pretends to sit on him, points his rear toward the boy’s face and says, “I’m feeling kind of gassy.” Eventually, he tells the students to go back to their lessons. Only a few minutes of class time remain.
It wasn’t a P.E. class or a group activity. The Feb. 2 incident took place during “Kopatime,” a half-hour class intended for reading and math preparation.
Rosi, a 14-year veteran of the Peninsula School District, was suspended for 10 days and shifted out of Kopachuck classrooms last spring, according to the terms of an agreement signed in April of this year. He now works in a different school. His base salary as of 2010 was $64,174, with approximately $10,000 more for coaching duties.
The “last chance agreement” Rosi signed notes he accepted the suspension in lieu of termination.
Parents of the boy say that’s not good enough. They have requested a criminal investigation into the incident involving their son, then an 8th-grader. The parents say Peninsula School District officials handled the matter poorly, withheld information and downplayed the seriousness of the incident, characterizing it as roughhousing and poor classroom management by Rosi instead of extended bullying.
“(Rosi) is completely ignorant of the fact that he’s got a whole classroom hazing one kid,” said the boy’s father, interviewed Monday by The News Tribune. “They classified it as roughhousing. But it’s not 14 kids wrestling each other. It’s a dozen kids using my son to demonstrate their dominance over him.”
The News Tribune is not naming the boy or his parents, who obtained records of the school district’s investigation (including the videos) via public disclosure and shared them with the newspaper.
Rosi could not be reached for comment Tuesday. He did not respond to a voicemail message or a visit to his home. However, his statements about the incident appear in records of the school district’s investigation, conducted by an outside lawyer.
“I was aware the student reactions were being video recorded,” Rosi wrote in a Feb. 10 letter to district investigators. “I can honestly say that at the time I did not believe that any of the children were at risk of harm during their interactions. Nor did I view the incident as anything more than harmless childhood horse play and a chance for the kids to take a break from the daily grind.”
Rosi’s statement mentions his years as a wrestling coach and his ability to recognize potential harm. He calls the boy “a great kid,” and adds that the boy had been physical with him in the past, grabbing his leg or trying to tackle him in a playful way.
His statement concludes by saying he understands the classroom was not an appropriate place for horseplay. He states that he will view the incident as a “learning experience.”
The boy’s parents say that they learned of the incident Feb. 3, a day after it occurred, though they knew few details. Text messages and calls from fellow students flooded the boy’s phone, questioning what he’d done to Rosi, who had already been removed from the classroom. The messages blamed the boy for blowing the whistle, but the boy hadn’t complained to anyone – district officials learned of the incident when they saw other students looking at videos on their phones and laughing.
The boy’s mother recalls asking to meet with the school principal the next morning. The boy did not want to go to school that day, his mother said. When they arrived at Kopachuck he was sent to Rosi’s class while his mother met with the principal.
“He came out five minutes later crying, and saying he just wanted to end his life,” the boy’s father said.
The parents have since enrolled the boy in a private school at their own expense, following advice from a therapist. They say school officials offered little help in the aftermath of the incident, apart from occasional home tutoring.
“We take student safety very seriously,” said acting Superintendent Chuck Cuzzetto, who answered questions about the incident during a Tuesday interview. “We investigated it. We took disciplinary and remedial action. We feel like we appropriately dealt with it. And we’ve been working closely with the parents ever since.”
The boy’s parents disagree. They say district kept them in the dark at first and declined to provide any details of the incident.
“I don’t think that they’ve addressed the dangers to the students,” the father said. “They’ve never regarded this as a bullying incident or a psychologically traumatizing incident for our son.”
Pierce County sheriff’s detectives are investigating the complaint and seeking records of the school district’s investigation, said detective Lynelle Anderson, spokeswoman for the Sheriff’s Office.
Detectives have not interviewed Rosi yet, Anderson said. They are trying to find out whether school officials – mandatory reporters of abuse under state law – relayed the incident to law enforcement or state child protection agents at the time.
“We’ll have to look at what the report says, but that could be an issue,” Anderson said. “Could be a big one.”
Cuzzetto, the acting superintendent, said he thought school officials did report the incident to Child Protective Services, but he said he would have to consult school records to be certain.