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Montgomery County students, parents sound off about bloody middle school attack

LANSDALE — As dozens of parents, administrators, and school board members listened, Pennbrook Middle School students took turns sharing the horrifying details of the attack they saw the day before — and the warnings they say fell on deaf ears.

“I was in lunch, and all of a sudden, I just hear all this screaming, and everybody running. And I see (the attacker) running in after somebody, and everyone screaming and running,” said one girl.

“But the girl who got attacked, didn’t see it, because she was faced backwards. And all of a sudden, you just hear these terrible loud bangs of the Stanley (cup) bouncing off of her head. And then you see (the attacker) grabbing her hair, and hitting her (head) against the table, and hitting her with the Stanley. There was blood going everywhere. I was at the table right behind, and all you see was blood everywhere,” the student said.

On Wednesday police and the district released details of an altercation that took place in the Pennbrook cafeteria the day before, which police said involved a 13-year-old assailant and a 12-year-old female victim. The victim was hit in the head, causing a bleeding head wound, taken from the scene via ambulance to an area hospital for treatment, and required staples to close lacerations on her head and underwent a concussion protocol, police said.

Heated reaction

North Penn School District parents lit up social media with accusations that the district knew the assailant was a danger beforehand and had inaccurately described the incident to parents.

At the start of Thursday night’s school board meeting, Superintendent Todd Bauer read a prepared statement, saying “a seventh grade student was attacked by another student” the day before.

North Penn Superintendent Todd Bauer reads a prepared statement addressing an alleged attack at Pennbrook Middle School during the school board meeting on April 18, 2024. (Screenshot of NPTV video)
North Penn Superintendent Todd Bauer reads a prepared statement addressing an alleged attack at Pennbrook Middle School during the school board meeting on April 18, 2024. (Screenshot of NPTV video)

“The event was deeply disturbing, and a student was taken to a hospital as a result of her injuries. After speaking with the family on multiple occasions over the last 24 hours, I am grateful to share the student returned home last evening, and is recovering. This should not have happened, period,” Bauer said.

“As an educator, as your superintendent, and as a father, I am appalled by what happened. We are currently pursuing the details leading up to this incident, and why it occurred. We are also collaborating with our local law enforcement, and their investigation, as we work to ensure that something like this cannot happen again in our schools. Such behavior has no place in our schools. You expect better, we expect better, and certainly I do as well,” he said.

Meeting with families

Since the attack took place, the superintendent told the parents, he has spent “significant time” speaking with both families, “to support them, and their children, as we navigate this regrettable incident.” Bauer added that he visited Pennbrook that morning to meet with students, staff, administrators and families and hear their concerns.

“We will continue to provide any and all supports that are necessary, over the next few days and as long as needed,” he said.

Both students and their families have a right to privacy, and any disciplinary matter will require “that we conduct the appropriate hearings and proceedings in a specific manner.”

“Out of respect for both of these families, and their right to confidentiality I will not be making any further comment on the matter this evening. But please do not perceive my lack of response to your comments as a lack of genuine and sincere care,” he said.

Solicitor Kyle Somers added that any disciplinary consequence in a school could come before the school board, “and you may need to sit in judgment of the issues, and any student who may face consequences,” before recommending the board not respond to any specific comments.

‘District failed to protect’

Over 80 minutes of public comments then followed, largely from parents describing their concerns about safety at Pennbrook and other schools, and from a trio of students describing what they saw as the attack took place.

Susan Dziedzic of North Wales said learning of the attack and that the district knew of a risk beforehand,  “really put me over the edge — this was avoidable, and the district truly failed to protect the students at Pennbrook.

Parent Susan Dziedzic speaks to North Penn school board members about an attack involving students at Pennbrook Middle School during the school board meeting on April 18, 2024. (Screenshot of NPTV video)
Parent Susan Dziedzic speaks to North Penn school board members about an attack involving students at Pennbrook Middle School during the school board meeting on April 18, 2024. (Screenshot of NPTV video)

“When we get an email that states ‘student safety is always of the utmost importance to the district,’ it really has become rhetoric that we don’t believe or trust. I could spend hours giving you examples of the violence that is happening readily, in any school, on any given day, K to 12,” she said, with parents often learning secondhand from students instead of from teachers or administrators.

“Unfortunately, what most of us believe is that decisions are being made based out of a fear of lawsuits, and not what would be an appropriate consequence to the behavior. These instances continue to occur, and occur more frequently, because nothing is changing,” she said.

Chris Pekula asked about answers to discrepancies between what parents were told by their students, and what the district communicated, including how long the school was in lockdown, why the students couldn’t call their families, and why they couldn’t leave the cafeteria.

“Why were kids left in the room, that this incident took place, while they were cleaning the blood off the floor? My daughter calls me, crying, hysterical, that they were cleaning blood off the floor. One of my good friends lost a daughter at Sandy Hook,” the school shooting in Connecticut in 2012, and the call evoked memories of that day.

“My daughters went to counselors at nine o’clock in the morning, twice, and told them this attack was coming today, at lunch. It was known,” he said. “What happened from the time you and your district got the warning, that this attack was coming, to when the attack happened? Because it happened exactly the way she told you it was going to happen.”

What did staff know?

One of the students then spoke, saying they had known an attack was coming: “Wednesday morning, I went to the guidance counselor, and told her I was second on the hit list. Knowing that there was something that was going to happen. There was a girl she was targeting every day at lunch. And they would go to the counselor and tell them, every day, that this was going to happen.”

Two students filed written reports explaining what they thought would happen, that student told the board, including that they were told to “watch your back,” and said they went to lunch “terrified” of the possible danger. After seeing the attack, “We had to watch them take her out, with blood dripping down her face, and I will never forget that.

“Laying in bed last night, I just kept repeating it in my head. And we shouldn’t have had to sit there, and just watch them clean up her blood with a mop. Watch her repeatedly yelling that ‘I’m going to murder you,’ and just hitting her with the Stanley. I don’t get that you couldn’t have stopped it. It was five hours from when I told you it was going to happen, and it happened,” the student said.

Stephanie Pallica said she thought it was “really disrespectful” how the school principal communicated with parents via email, which referred to the incident as a fight and not an attack, and said she had heard the attacker “had multiple reports of violence against her made this week, by parents and students, and I just don’t know how that went unchecked, how this child was able to remain in school.”

“As a parent, your worst fear comes to life, when you get that call from your kid, crying, in school, ‘Mom, help me, I’m scared, there’s blood everywhere.’ You can’t get to them fast enough. And they hang up on you, because teachers and staff are yelling at them to hang up their phones,” she said.

“So we’re left to speculate the worst: God forbid, school shooting, stabbing. I hear my kid fearing for her life, and tons of kids in the background, screaming and crying. I just don’t know what went wrong. I would like to know and be assured that this child will not be returning to any other North Penn schools, at all,” before outlining several other alleged attacks by the same student.

‘District was lying to us’

Another Pennbrook student then spoke, saying “I feel like there could’ve been a lot of things put in place to prevent this, and I feel like the district was lying to us, saying it was a fight when it was not, it was an assault.”

That student also disputed the time the school was locked down, the number of complaints about the alleged attacker, and how the alleged assailant was able to escape a school office to get to the cafeteria where the attack took place.

“It’s just the fact that the kids had to experience that. We are young. We are in middle school, we’re not supposed to be seeing these things. And I feel like the district could’ve done so much. And if she is coming back to school, that is not okay,” said the student. “I feel like they shouldn’t have let that happened, and I feel like it’s traumatizing to see that blood on the ground. When I was walking out, I looked around, and I saw (the victim) getting wheeled out. I feel like you could do way better to prevent that.”

Pennbrook Middle School
Pennbrook Middle School

‘Scandal after scandal’

Alyssa Santiago said her student was also on the alleged attacker’s “hit list,” that she had called the school twice to warn of threats against her daughter, “and I was assured that my daughter was safe, and I was assured that it was handled, and taken care of,” before asking Bauer if he was aware that the student was a threat.

Other parents shared similar stories, of violent incidents and dangers to students at other schools, and asked when the board and administrators would give answers to the parents and public and if they would share resources for counseling and how to talk to their kids about the incident.

Leanna Goodrich referred to other recent incidents in the district, “scandal after scandal” including an alleged sexual assault on a student, and an alleged inappropriate relationship between a teacher and counselor, prior to the attack, and said she had also heard from her children of smoking and vaping in bathrooms, fights, and racial slurs yelled in hallways.

“Because of threats and the physical violence to kids, it is affecting their ability to learn,” she said. “This wasn’t a fight yesterday, it was an assault, and our children deserve better than this. They deserve to be able to come to school and feel safe.”

Ariel Baker Evans said she reported threats in September from the same alleged assailant at another school, and was told “teacher’s hands were tied. I wanted to come to school board meetings, and plead for the protection of our children. It’s hard to pray over your children, praying they will come home. They shouldn’t have that here at North Penn: we’re supposed to be the best, and we’re not.”

Heather Sands asked about policies and procedures when such an incident happens, what school the alleged attacker had attended before Pennbrook, if they had any previous threats or signs there, and if they would be expelled from Pennbrook or North Penn High School.

Parent Sarah Batory speaks to North Penn school board members about an attack involving students at Pennbrook Middle School during the school board meeting on April 18, 2024. (Screenshot of NPTV video)
Parent Sarah Batory speaks to North Penn school board members about an attack involving students at Pennbrook Middle School during the school board meeting on April 18, 2024. (Screenshot of NPTV video)

Shannon Main said she heard from her child about safety concerns over the same alleged assailant at a different school during a class the two had together, she picked her student up from the school to avoid that student several times, and she’s found videos on TikTok of an attack at that school involving the alleged assailant.

“There was a violent track record of this child, and I want to call on one of the board members to evaluate the ‘Safe2Say’ program, call a special committee, just like you did for the renovations at the high school, to evaluate everything that happened and report back to the community,” Main said.

Des Magruder said he’s also seen videos of his child involved in incidents with the alleged assailant, “and each and every day, my child was distraught to go to school.” The last time he reported an incident, he did not hear back from anyone at the school for several days, and urged the district to do more to communicate with parents and address threats beforehand.

Sarah Batory shared how her student reacted when he got home after seeing the attack.

“I watched him walk in the door, and drop to the ground immediately,” she said. “He was white as a ghost, and he bawled his eyes out, crying, for over an hour. He didn’t get out of bed the whole rest of the day, he didn’t get out of bed today. He’s absolutely traumatized from this event. I don’t know how I’m going to send him back and sit him in that cafeteria.

“He’s like, ‘All I keep seeing is blood. Every time I close my eyes, I see her blood’,” Batory continued. “What are we supposed to say to our children after this? How do I send him back to school? How does he feel safe going back to school, because he doesn’t. How does he not relive this trauma every single time he goes into the lunchroom? I thought this was being handled, now I think this is all being swept under the rug.”

Communication questioned

Diana Blystone, who ran for school board last year, said she had raised similar safety concerns to the board years ago, and questioned the district’s transparency around reporting those incidents up to the current ones. Other parents echoed their concerns about how the district communicated over the attack, comparing it to the district’s communication over the recent renovation regarding funding renovations to North Penn High School, and asked the board and staff to take such efforts to communicate about safety, and whether extra screening or measures would be put in place to prevent weapons from being concealed in a Stanley cup similar to that used in the attack.

Jason Lanier said he’s shared critiques and questions about school safety statistics in prior meetings, and called the attack “unbelievably horrifying,” adding: “I don’t care what the rationale is, the violence is too much. The issues have been known.”

A third student said they didn’t see the attack firsthand, but spent Thursday supporting friends in the schools’ guidance office, and were initially told by school staff they could stay there as long as needed, but later in the day were told they “had been there too long.”

“My friends ended up going to the bathroom multiple times during their classes, and crying, because they didn’t want to be in the room, and they were horrified at what was happening. Some of my friends have never really dealt with stuff like this, and they can’t get that blood out of their head, what they saw that day,” the student said.

The victim “had told me she was having issues that day,” and friends at other schools had shared similar threats from the alleged assailant: “They said they have multiple screenshots and proof of this girl saying she was going to shoot her” at the other school; “The fact that she was allowed back into school, I don’t know how.”

Safety training?

Additional comments from parents asked for details on the safety training and drills done by staff and students while at schools to prepare for such incidents, and whether the gender identity of the alleged assailant was hidden from parents while communicating about the attack, leading to heated back-and-forth between audience members. Andrew Pushart questioned whether the board had prioritized safety in every school, and said the only recent discussion about security he had heard was about new scanning equipment the board recently purchased for large events such as football games.

“I’m sure a lot of parents in our district would forgo getting into a football game quicker, if we know security measures were being beefed up at our schools,” he said.

After the close of public comment, several students and parents shouted questions at the board and administrators, and board Vice President Christian Fusco said they couldn’t answer.

“There is no comment that we are able to make at this time, because of everyone’s due process rights, and because of the law. I do wish that I could answer those questions. My heart is broken as well,” he said.

Somers, the solicitor, then outlined the typical disciplinary process requiring hearings before administrators within five school days after an incident, and possible hearings before the school board, thus the recommendation that the board members not comment. Bauer said he and administrators had been in contact with county agencies and officials following the attack about resources for families and students who witnessed it, and said those resources would be distributed to, and he would meet with, families as soon as possible.

North Penn’s school board next meets at 7 p.m. on May 7 and the board’s safe schools committee next meets at 5:45 p.m. on April 29; for more information visit www.NPenn.org.


Source: Berkshire mont

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