BEDFORD, NY — Some parents in Westchester County are outraged after photos of special students using the bathroom at school were allegedly spread on social media.
One mother sat down with CBS2’s Jenna DeAngelis on Monday to share her concerns.
“This has been really difficult for my family,” Karen Close said.
Close has been struggling since learning a compromising photo was taken of her son, Jonathan, who has autism, and other special needs students while using the restroom at Fox Lane High School.
“In the photos, the students who took these pictures went in the bathroom, took it as a selfie with the naked butts of the students behind them at the urinals, and then posted them,” Close said. “His response to me was, ‘Why would someone do this to me?'”
Adding to her frustration, Close said the school didn’t immediately inform her. She found out a week after it was reported, in March, during an unrelated meeting with a teacher.
“On top of them not notifying us, I think not getting the police involved immediately is another major hole in how this was handled and an administration failure,” Close said.
Parents, desperate for answers, decided to take matters into their own hands by offering a reward for information. Close said they received several photos, which they took right to Bedford police.
“It took a flyer and a monetary reward for this to come out. To me, it is absolutely despicable and it speaks to the culture that we have here and it’s not a good one,” Close said.
Outraged parents took their concerns to several recent Bedford Central School District board meetings.
“My non-verbal son was a victim and because he couldn’t protect himself or ask for help, I’m here to be his voice,” one parent said.
“Transparency has always been problematic, and respect for our special needs community is horribly lacking,” another said.
The board pledged to hire an independent third-party firm to investigate.
“And to review the district’s current policies, procedures, practices, culture and training to better protect the safety and privacy of all students,” board president John Boucher said at an April 20 meeting.
Boucher’s full statement is below:
During the previous Board meeting, there was a lengthy and important discussion about an incident that occurred at Fox Lane High School, which involved special education students being photographed in the bathroom by other students. The school board and the district’s administrators condemn those egregious acts and we have taken every possible course of action to address the incident. The district’s administrators have been fully cooperating with law enforcement and the district initiated student disciplinary proceedings against those students who may have been responsible. The school board recognizes that parents send their children to school , trusting that the district will keep their children safe. As a result of the incident at FLHS, some parents – especially parents of children with special needs – believe that sense of security has been breached. As a school board, it is our duty to rebuild that trust. Therefore, we will be hiring independent investigators to fully investigate t he incident at FLHS, and to examine our district’s current policies, procedures, practices, culture and training to better protect the safety and privacy of all students. We understand that the community has many questions, and we wish that we could answer every single one of those questions – but please understand that federal law prevents us from releasing confidential information about students. We are legally prohibited from discussing any details regarding the alleged victims or the alleged perpetrators. With regard to questions about the specific timeline of events or district actions, we do not want to jeopardize the independent investigation by prematurely releasing information that could impact the investigators’ conclusions. The board has already begun the process of vetting investigators, and we will take the necessary steps based upon the results of the investigation. In the meanwhile , preventative actions have already been undertaken, such as ensuring that FLHS bathrooms a re-monitored more frequently. The superintendent and every single board member takes your concerns very seriously. No amount of policies or procedures can prevent every potential problem, but we are committed to doing everything in our power to make our schools as safe and secure as they can possibly be for every student attending Bedford Central School District.
The district superintendent’s office declined CBS2’s request for comment. In a letter dated March 31, he noted “swift disciplinary action is being taken.”
“They’ve made adjustments, major adjustments, in the acknowledgment when a situation happens and the timing of communication,” Superintendent Dr. Joel Adelberg said on April 20.
But parents say they want to see systemic changes to assure this won’t happen again, especially to the most vulnerable students.
“I feel like the system is failing them and something needs to be done to fix that,” Close said.
Bedford police are still investigating the incident. The Westchester County District Attorney’s Office confirmed its involvement, but would not provide more information.
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