At a special parent meeting Tuesday night, parents and taxpayers told KDKA’s Kym Gable that they’ve retained the services of a Pittsburgh attorney to pursue a possible class action lawsuit, claiming administrators infringed on students’ rights.
KDKA tried to gain access to the meeting, but was told it was a private, closed-door session with no media allowed.
During an exercise at the Jan. 15 workshop, students were asked questions amongst their peers and then “grouped” based on their answers.
There were more than two dozen questions. The statements included:
“Please move to the middle of the circle if:”
- You have been impacted by drugs or alcohol
- You have been called fat or made fun of
- You or someone close to you identifies as gay, lesbian, or transgendered
- You have been impacted by mental challenges or learning disabilities
- You or your family has ever worried about not having enough money
- You or someone close to you has been imprisoned
- You have been raised by a single parent
The district says students were told they did not have to share if they did not feel comfortable, but parents say they wish they would have seen the questions prior to the workshop.
“There is now so much damage done to these children and there is no way to go back and make this better for them,” said Diane Kolesar.
Pam Brosovic added, “I asked them [administrators] to do the same thing they asked the kids to do: Stand in a circle, put a mask on and step in the circle and say all your problems.”
Brosovic believes the exercise “gave the bullies ammunition.”
No one from the school district administration would comment on camera.
The designated spokesperson after the meeting was school board president Debbie Mirich, who read a written statement.
“We do stand behind the intentions of our workshop and we look forward (to) continuing our work with parents to address this very serious issue of bullying and the unintentional acts that continue to marginalize different groups of students.”
Mirich acknowledged that the school board did not have any direct involvement in facilitating the workshop.
Parent Marie-Noelle Briggs said, “I would never expect a middle school to ask kids if their parents have been in school, if they’re [the] same sex, if they’re having financial issues. How is that going to affect them?”
Jan. 20, 2016: UPDATE —
West Allegheny School District Superintendent Jerri Lynn Lippert says school officials are reaching out to the families upset by the program.
“What I think went wrong with this is we did not do a thorough vetting process with parents. Had the workshop involved parents in the planning, I don’t think we would be here.”
The school board also addressed the controversy at a meeting Wednesday night.