SPRINGFIELD, NJ — A bullying claim by the mother of 9-year-old student who has not attended her Springfield elementary school for almost six weeks has escalated to address the practice of “looping.” Concerned parents are questioning district policy regarding the elementary school placement protocol, which keeps teachers and students together as they progress from one grade level to the next.
Springfield parents who wish to be consulted as to their children’s looping placement, have started the “Limit Looping” movement after claims the district refused to meet with them about their concerns, and more than 60 parents attended the Springfield Board of Education meeting on Monday, Nov. 6, to confront the board.
During the public comment portion of the meeting, parents urged the BOE and administration to implement districtwide rules and guidelines for looping to include parent input and establish an opt-out policy, allowing parents to change their children’s classroom assignments, if necessary.
“A petition was created online to make the administration adopt a parent choice on looping, a website went live and Facebook page was set up,” Springfield parent Sylvia Gils Caggiano said at the BOE meeting. “Now, from just a few, there are hundreds of supporters for an opt-out policy.”
Caggiano also quoted “The Looping Handbook” by Jim Grant, an ardent proponent of the practice, pointing out that Grant wrote that, as matter of policy, looping placement should be reviewed with parents to decide whether to continue or change the class assignments for a particular student and to provide an option to transfer.
“There you have it, the man who wrote the handbook on looping advocated for a looping policy to include parental participation,” Caggiano said.
This issue surfaced when Irina Spektor requested that her daughter be reassigned from her looped class. Spektor was later told by Superintendent Michael Davino her request had been denied, she told LocalSource via email Oct. 31.
“On Oct. 5, Superintendent Michael Davino called me and told me that he will not be moving my daughter because there is no need for this,” she said. “He said that according to the school physician, who never spoke or saw my child, there is no medical need for the class reassignment.”
Spektor claims her daughter was bullied last year by her third-grade classmates, who teased and made fun of her freckles and birthmarks, according to previously published reports.
As the child progressed to the fourth grade, her class was looped, resulting in her refusal to attend school out of fear, according to her mother.
“Currently, her younger brother brings home her classwork and homework; she completes it at home and I bring it back to school,” Spektor said.
Davino told LocalSource on Nov. 2, that looping is merely a scheduling and programming approach used in a variety of situations and occurs in elementary education from 5 to 10 years of age.
He noted looping has been utilized as a scheduling protocol in Springfield for 10 to 12 years and that not every class loops into the next year, but a strategic decision on looping is based on staffing evaluated by the principals, teachers and himself.
Eight classes have been looped in the Springfield district this year.
“The district clearly does not have a policy, which is something we have been asking to see so we, as parents, would be able to understand our rights,” Spektor told LocalSource. “It seems that the superintendent wants to randomly loop classes as he sees fit, without offering a reason, an explanation or a right to opt out.”
The New Jersey Department of Education does not have guidelines addressing looping, spokesman David Saenz told LocalSource on Nov. 3.
“There are no statewide policies regarding looping,” he said. “Implementing any looping program would be a local district decision and, as such, we would not have any information about what districts do or do not have that program.”
During the Nov. 6 school board meeting, before the parents spoke, Davino addressed the published reports.
“As reported in the media, this young lady is riddled with anxiety and sadness and, in her words, wants to be away from enemies. To do so completely, she needs to change schools,” Davino said.
In order to put the issue to rest, the family was given the option for the student to attend James Caldwell Elementary, another district elementary school, but the family has turned down the offer, Davino added.
“As educators, we find this to be sad and disappointing, as we remind everyone that this began simply because we denied a parent’s request for a new teacher,” Davino said. “We hope that this family will allow us to return the child back to school where she belongs.”
The superintendent continued by saying that Spektor went to the media first before appealing the district’s finding in its bullying investigation either to the BOE or the New Jersey education commissioner.
And now, he said, the family is refusing to allow the district to transfer the student out of the environment she says is causing anxiety.
This particular bullying claim stems from as early as September, and Spektor told LocalSource she met with Principal Michael Plias of Thelma L. Sandmeier Elementary School on Sept. 29, along her daughter’s therapist, who informed the principal and officials it was vital to transfer her daughter to another class immediately.
In addition to the therapist, Spektor told LocalSource she also brought a letter from her child’s pediatrician stating that a change of class was required right away.
However, Davino claimed otherwise in a letter he sent to all families in the district last week.
In response to the recent media coverage, the letter directly addressed what he characterized as reports of inconsistencies and misinformation.
“We can only say that the information presented as to the alleged bullying being reported in the news reports is inconsistent with the information we received (from all sources, including the parents and the student herself),” Davino wrote in the letter.
Under law, Davino and the school board cannot discuss confidential, educational and medical issues pertaining to specific student situations in public.
However, Davino told LocalSource on Nov. 2 that he disagrees with the way the school board has been portrayed in media reports.
“To see this board as characterized as not listening, not doing this and that, is a disservice to the people working in this district,” he told LocalSource. “None of us are allowed to speak to a specific situation.”
In the letter, Davino also addressed claims that the school had ignored medical records, referring to protocols that all medical records presented are reviewed and evaluated by a credentialed medical professional.
The school then seeks input from the student’s physician, after obtaining a parent’s permission, the letter wrote.
“The recent news reports inferred that the district was ignoring certain requests made by medical providers. This is never the case,” he wrote. “It is important for all parents to know that, should medical information regarding a student’s condition or state of mind be presented to district staff or administration, such information is not merely reviewed by relevant school personnel.”
Davino’s letter additionally outlined the status of investigations conducted in response to the claim. An initial investigation came back without any confirmation of bullying allegations.
Davino notified parents that a second, ongoing investigation was being conducted by an outside entity.
“While not reported by the news media recently, all of these steps have been taken in the case featured and are ongoing,” Davino wrote. “We have been and are continuing to address that particular situation.”
The letter stated Davino’s claim made at the Nov. 6 meeting that the Spektors never appealed the initial finding of the district’s bullying investigation.
When LocalSource asked Spektor why she did not appeal the findings of the investigation, she said she was advised by her attorney not to as she didn’t have any new evidence and did not expect any new witnesses to come forward.
In response to Davino’s letter to the District, Irina told LocalSource that the superintendent has attempted to discredit her.
“To sum it up, I would like to say that Mr. Davino is trying to make me look like I am crazy or a liar,” Spektor told LocalSource in email on Oct. 31.