Kids made cellphone videos of what went on in a Kopachuck Middle School classroom last year.
But grown-ups determined what happened in the aftermath of the apparent bullying incident – one that was allowed to play out for an estimated 15 minutes while a teacher watched and, at some points, joined in.
Now many, including online commenters and callers to the Peninsula School District, are questioning whether school officials did the right thing by suspending the veteran teacher for 10 days without pay and not firing him.
Chuck Cuzzetto, currently acting superintendent but deputy superintendent at the time the incident occurred in February, said he understands why parents are concerned.
“I was horrified by the video,” he said. “It’s certainly not horseplay. It’s very inappropriate behavior on the part of the students and on the part of the teacher. There’s no excuse for what happened.”
Cuzzetto said the final decision on disciplinary action against teacher John Rosi was made by the School Board, on the recommendation of then-Superintendent Terry Bouck.
Bouck retired at the end of the school year and subsequently took a job as superintendent of schools in Billings, Mont. He could not be reached for comment Friday.
Asked if the district could reconsider its actions after signing a legal document with Rosi agreeing to the suspension, Cuzzetto replied: “There may be different facts available today than there were last February.”
He said those facts might come from an investigation by the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department. Detectives launched the investigation at the request of the parents of the boy targeted in the video.
Cuzzetto also said the district has been contacted by the state Office of Professional Practices. The office, part of the Superintendent of Public Instruction’s Office, is responsible for monitoring teacher certification and has the power to revoke a teacher’s certificate.
Cuzzetto said state officials asked if the district had filed a report with them.
“To my knowledge, we had not,” he said. He said that if the district gains additional information that warrants a report, it would file one.
Some have questioned whether officials backed off on firing Rosi due to pressure from the teachers union.
“The association assists teachers in discipline cases to ensure the process is fair,” said Cristi McCorkle, a representative with the Olympic regional office of the union, the Washington Education Association.
WEA spokesman Rich Wood said that the School District conducted a timely investigation into what happened at Kopachuck. He said district officials disciplined the teacher “based on its findings and the local collective bargaining agreement.”
“We understand that people are upset and that they may not like the outcome,” he said. “But revisiting the teacher’s discipline months after the fact is unfair.”
Cuzzetto said the district’s decision was “based on the evidence presented.”
The controversial videos show students dragging an eighth-grade boy around a classroom, stuffing a sock in his mouth and holding him on the floor under overturned chairs. At times, Rosi joins in and smiles.
He told the School District the videos showed kids roughhousing, but not doing physical harm. He wrote in a statement to district officials that it was “a chance for the kids to take a break from the daily grind.”
Mia Doces is a program and media specialist with Seattle-based Committee for Children, a nonprofit group that’s been promoting bullying prevention around the country for decades.
She said that, based on the portions of the videos she’s viewed through news reports, the teacher appeared to be part of the incident. At the very least, she said, he didn’t stop it.
“Not only is he not creating a safe environment, he is participating in it,” she said. “This goes beyond bullying.”
Doces said her organization works with schools to teach children in preschool through eighth grade how to calm down, empathize with others and problem-solve. But she said teachers can learn effective communication skills as well.
“Adults need to be modeling the skills they’re expecting the children to use,” she said.
The Committee for Children publishes some well-known curricula, including “Steps to Respect” and “Second Step.” Both are used in the Peninsula School District, along with other materials. Students learn about bullying and how to get along with each other both in the classroom and through assemblies, said Dan Gregory, the district’s academic officer in charge of anti-bullying policies. He said district staff, including teachers and non-teaching employees, received training on the subject in 2011.
And he said the training was reviewed with principals and district officials again at the start of this school year.
Cuzzetto said that district officials will need to decide in the coming weeks how best to reach out to parents in the school district, which has one of the best records of academic achievement in Pierce County.
“It’s pretty obvious we have work to do,” Cuzzetto said. “We need to restore credibility – that’s the No. 1 thing. Parents need to feel their children are safe in our schools.”debbie.cafazzo@ thenewstribune.com 253-597-8635