POTTSTOWN PA – An approximately 3-second video of one student being slapped by another on a Pottsgrove School District bus two weeks ago was uploaded Monday (March 24, 2014) to the Web and has gone viral, attracting hundreds of comments and creating a public relations headache for the district administration.
Superintendent Shellie Feola felt compelled, in light of the public outcry, to issue a statement Tuesday (March 25) in which she said the district was re-investigating all facets of “this unfortunate incident,” which occurred March 12. It was reported to administrators a day later, but did not gain public attention until after the video was released.
Feola declined to specify how long the re-investigation might take, but indicated the district was working with all parties involved.
Pottsgrove, she said, “never condone(s) physical violence of any kind,” and the student who struck out at the second “was disciplined according to our code of conduct.”
The names of the student who was slapped; the student who did the slapping (and who, according to Feola, claimed he or she was provoked by harassment); and the student who shot the viral video with a cell phone are not being released. The district cited federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act limitations as the reason it would not provide more information to the media or public.
It also declined to specify the website or sites on which the video now appears. Initially, according to district Technology and Communications Director Michael Wagman, the video had been uploaded by a parent to an “autistic child support” website. Within hours, he added, it was replicated on other social media sites too.
- Note: Post Managing Editor Joe Zlomek has not seen the video, and would decline to post it online if it were made available.
Wagman confirmed one of the students involved was a recipient of special education.
Feola’s statement said the raw video lacks context, is incomplete, and is consequently “misleading in light of the full bus video footage that the administration has obtained and reviewed.” That hasn’t kept a worldwide audience from making itself heard on the subject.
Wagman said the original video post generated more than 400 comments as of mid-day Tuesday. The district also has received dozens of calls, e-mails and comments, he said, from across the U.S. and elsewhere. “We’re getting inundated by people from far-flung states and countries,” Wagman admitted.
The comments, he added, are “hurtful to the students, families, and staff involved,” and made primarily by others operating “on a very incomplete and, honestly, inaccurate set of facts.”
Locally, school board member Rick Rabinowitz – who is the moderator of several Pottsgrove school forums on Facebook – asked his users to “refrain from posting the video on any of my groups. There are students from PGSD involved and I cannot allow unauthorized images, particularly those that involve acts of violence, to be posted.”
“We do take this incident seriously,” Wagman assured. “It has been handled. We have an anti-bullying policy in place that we enforce.” Bullying in the district has been a subject of debate at school board meetings and online. In response to a question from The Post, Feola refused to characterize the incident as a breakdown of or failure in that policy. “It’s absolutely not,” she said in its defense.
“Our obligation is to protect all students. We do not condone bullying or harassment of any kind,” Feola repeated.
- Revision: This story was edited Tuesday at 4:13 p.m. to correct what Wagman claimed was The Post’s misunderstanding of who uploaded the video to the Web.
Graphic from Mashable