The parents of a boy who was the target of apparent classroom bullying captured on video last school year told members of the Peninsula School Board on Thursday night that they want the school district to take the incident more seriously.
We ask you to stop treating what happened to my son in John Rosis classroom as horseplay or roughhousing, Randy and Karla Kinney, parents of the former Kopachuck Middle School student, wrote in a letter to the board.
Speaking to board members, Randy Kinney pleaded with them to understand that what happened last February was more than classroom mismanagement on the part of the Gig Harbor area teacher.
Rosi became the center of controversy after cellphone videos shot by students in his Kopachuck classroom in February came to light last week. The video showed students carrying an eighth-grade boy around by his arms and legs, trapping him beneath overturned chairs and more. At times, Rosi joined in. The videos showed that the behavior continued for at least 15 minutes.
As a result of the incident last winter, Rosi was suspended 10 days without pay and had been reassigned to Harbor Ridge Middle School this year. But after video clips of the scene were made public by The News Tribune and other news media, district officials placed him on paid leave, fearing the controversy would disrupt education at Harbor Ridge.
The Pierce County Sheriffs Department is now investigating the incident as well. Asked after the meeting if his family intended to sue the district, Randy Kinney said they want to allow law enforcement to do its job. He said the family would decide what to do after they hear the findings of that investigation.
At Thursdays board meeting, board President Jill Uddenberg said Rosi is entitled to a fair, objective investigation. She said the district is cooperating with the Sheriffs office and awaiting the outcome of its investigation.
Uddenberg announced there will be a series of meetings for parents and students at Kopachuck, Harbor Ridge and Peninsula High School. (Rosi taught at the high school as a substitute last year after being suspended at Kopachuck.)
She also said school officials will meet with students who were in the Kopachuck classroom last year. She said those students may be processing difficult feelings.
Uddenberg also said the district is forming a task force that will be asked to find ways to bring new anti-bullying awareness and prevention efforts to the district.
An emotional Randy Kinney, who was accompanied at the meeting by his wife, Karla, and family attorney Joan Mell, choked up as he told the board he wanted to stand as an advocate for his son, now a student in a private school. He said he also wanted to advocate on behalf of children who might find themselves in the same position.
We need to know that you recognize bullying behavior, the Kinneys wrote. They said in their letter that the district should not define bullying by trying to decide from the expression on a childs face whether the behavior is merely horseplay.
We want to hear from you that regardless of a childs expression, you understand that a girl pulling a boys underwear up his back on video in front of his peers is harmful, the Kinneys wrote. That a pillow on a students face, socks in his mouth, writing on his feet, putting chairs on him, sitting on him midair and passing gas on him is harmful.
Rosis attorney, Bryan Hershman, told The News Tribune earlier this week that the teacher has been treated unfairly and eviscerated in the press.
Hershman said the video has nothing to do with his teaching career and asked the public to give him a second chance.
The school district has already done so by suspending, rather than firing, him. That action provoked critical comments from the public, many of whom have called for Rosi to be fired.
Some believe he should be terminated, Uddenberg said. But she noted that others in the district have defended the veteran teacher.
Another person spoke to the board Thursday about Rosi. Gig Harbor High School teacher Susan Deeds, who is also a parent of students in the district, said she was upset that the incident only came to light months after it happened.
She said she asked her daughter, a former student of Rosi, her opinion of the teacher. She said the girl described incidents in which students threw shoes at him, he chased students around the school, and students taped him to a chair.
The fact that this is going on at the middle school is upsetting to me, Deeds said. What kind of climate do we have at the middle school?
She asked the board to look into adult behavior at the school.
After the public meeting, board members held a closed executive session to discuss the evaluation of a public employee and litigation. Asked if that discussion concerned the Kopachuck incident, Uddenberg said she could not say.
The board took no action after the executive session.