Details from Eldred bullying trial
ELDRED, NY — After a six-member jury gave the verdict in Sullivan County Supreme Court in Monticello on October 25 in the Anthony Motta Jr. and Christine Horne Motta vs. Eldred School District bullying trial, many in the school community have started to speak up about other incidents at the school involving bullying. At the trial, which took place in a crowded room that had been relocated from a smaller one because of the large number of people attending, two former students testified about their own experiences of being bullied.
A change.org petition started by Audrey Binkowski, a community member with kids in district schools, demands the immediate firing of the high school principal, Scott Krebs. The petition was delivered by Binkowski on Friday, October 27 to the new interim district superintendent, Dr. John Morgano. It had 260 signatures at that time, and by Monday, the number of signers had reached 299. The high school has about 300 students.
Binkowski told The River Reporter that Dr. Morgano’s response was positive, and he indicated he was goint to addrees the issue. A special education board meeting is scheduled for Monday, October 30 at 6:30 p.m. at the high school, although it was not specifically called to address these issues.
The jury unanimously found for the plaintiff, and awarded him $1 million in compensation. Among the key factors resulting in the verdict, according to the foreperson Jodi Taylor and other jurors, were Kreb’s vague testimony and the fact that previous students who had also been bullied came up voluntarily to testify for Anthony. They also mentioned the vagueness of what the school did to address bullying.
The bullying incidents included daily name-calling such as "faggot" and "spitter;" acts such as urinating on Anthony’s hat and pouring glue over him; passing his backpack in the lunch room, resulting in loss of school work and headphones; an attempted choking as a bet for a quarter; throwing an orange violently at his chest; and pushing and showing him in corridors. The name -alling escalated to 15 to 20 daily by the time Anthony hit back after the backpack incident.
As a result of defending himself by hitting back after the backpack incident, on his father’s advice, police were called and Anthony had to go to family court. There, Judge McGuire ordered him to a psychiatric facility evaluation for 30 days, and his parents were “stripped of their parental rights,” according to the Motta attorney Jean Paul Le Du during questioning.
By then, Anthony's mother Christine Horne Motta had emailed the school about his bullying, and there was a meeting between the school officials including Krebs and Dufour. But the main focus of the meeting was on academics and absences, and the school didn’t take further action about bullying because no further incidents were brought to his attention, Krebs said. Eventually, a daily check and connect with the school’s security officer was also set up, although Anthony told him he didn’t want to be seen with him for fear of retaliation.
It is unclear what if anything happened to the students who passed around Anthony's backpack in the crowded lunch room, although Krebs said he believes there were consequences.
Krebs is the Dignity for All Students Act (DASA) representative for the high school, and as the only administrator in the building, he bears the main responsibility for enforcing anti-bullying policies. Violent and Disruptive Incidents Reports (VADIR) must filed with the state by the school.
Le Du asked how many times Krebs had called cops on students, and after Krebs first said he didn’t know, under pressure, he acknowledged it was, “Three, two,” times per year. But he didn’t remember if he called the cops on Anthony after he retaliated in the backpack incident, and no VADIR was filed at the time.
In another incident, when the bullies urinated in Anthony’s hat, they again suffered no consequences.
Here is an excerpt from the trial.
Le Du: “There's a bullying incident. Who would get the suspension?”
Krebs: “I had instances where people would react where somebody might call somebody a name and they would physically injure them, so sometimes there would be a suspension by both—or some type of consequence of both.”
Le Du: “Sometimes you would give a punishment for both the bully and the bullied?”
Krebs: “That happened at times, yes.”
Le Du: “Why would you give a consequence to a child who was bullied?”
Krebs: “They were injured.”
Le Du: “So you think it's appropriate to punish a child who's been injured from bullying?”
Krebs: “In the circumstance that I'm talking about, yes.”
Le Du asked what happened to the boys who committed the offence, and Krebs said he wasn’t sure, but there was $10 restitution for the hat, and that he didn’t get a confirmation from the boys that they did it. An incredulous Le Du responded, “You believed the boys who did the peeing over the bullied boy? Did those students get in-school suspension for putting the hat in the urinal or pissing on it?”
Krebs said, “I don't have that information. I didn't print that out.”
In May of 2010, when one of the bullies tried to choke Anthony in the library for a quarter bet, the consequences for Billy York, the alleged perpetrator, also weren’t clear.
At the trial, Anthony’s father, Anthony Motta Sr., broke down in tears on the witness stand, blaming himself for advising his son to finally stand up to school bullies to defend himself when the family’s repeated pleas for help were not addressed and the bullying escalated.
During the questioning Krebs said several times he couldn’t recall facts. He said he wasn’t aware of most of the incidents at the time, and when he did become aware, he wasn’t sure if it was bullying.
Despite the school’s bringing in anti-bullying workshops like Dr. Barbara Coloroso’s workshop, which the whole district, including parents, students, staff and faculty attended, Krebs couldn’t clearly define bullying.
Coloroso has written a book “The Bully, the Bullied, and the Bystander” on which she bases her work. She travels all over the country giving workshops on bullying and is considered an expert. Coloroso’s definition of teasing is when two people have an exchange of words but no feelings are hurt, but bullying is when two people have an exchange of words, names are called and feelings are hurt.
Coloroso and others also say bullying is recognized as a major contributor to teen suicide and life-long anxiety, depression, sleeplessness and PTSD, all of which Anthony exhibited.
Krebs said he didn’t remember the above from the workshop.
Attorney for the school district Wendy Dewind questioned the school officials about Anthony’s record, concentrating mainly on academics and absences. Anthony’s past history of problems also came up, especially when he had to go to court about hitting back during the backpack incident, and Judge Schick acknowledged his troubles started before bullying.
Krebs’ relationship with Judge McGuire, who sent Anthony to the psych ward, came up, and Krebs said he was a family friend and they had had dinner together. Krebs personally delivered documentation about Anthony for the first trial.
Le Du asked Krebs if, according to the expert Coloroso, mediation or setting up a check and connect with a security officer, as had been tried in this case, were good strategies to deal with bullying. Krebs said he didn’t remember. Le Du said that, based on Coloroso, it would set the bullied victim to be seen as a snitch that could lead to escalated bullying. Falling grades and many absences are also often effects of bullying. Mediation doesn’t work in bullying, according to Coloroso.
Two other previous students, Natalie Gonzalez and Kristianna Schnakenberg, testified about their being bullied.
Gonzalez was called an illegal immigrant, a dirty Mexican, a spick, Dora the Explorer and border jumper, and Schnakenberg was called names about her being overweight. Krebs said, “There were consequences.” Billy York was identified again, and Le Du asked what happened to him.
Krebs said, “I can't be 100% specific, but I think he may have had in-school suspension or a phone call to—I can't be specific.”
Judge Schick asked how Krebs would become aware of bullying in school, and he explained, “A lot of times teachers might send an email or contact the guidance counselor or say there's something that's going on with the students in the classroom, and we'd go and speak with them to see what was happening.”
When asked, he said on average he determined bullying happened 30 to 40 times per year.
After the verdict, a celebration broke out with Motta family and supporters outside the court chamber.
The River Reporter reached out to DeWitt, who said she was not allowed to comment. The district sent a statement later clarifying its reaction that was added to previous reporting. Dufour had found new employment at the BOCES prior to the trial.
According to Krebs, he didn’t come aware of Anthony’s bullying until he got an email from Christine concerning an incident with another student in eighth grade.
Le Du asked, “Do you believe that he was being bullied when you found out he was being called faggot, spitter, when his hat was pissed on, when he was choked?”
Krebs said, “I don't know if I found out about all of them at—in 2011 and 2012, it might not have been until later, so therefore we could not go back and address some of those issues.”
When Krebs gave an example of how the school investigated bullying incidents in the urinating incident, he explained there were conversations with the bullies and other students who were present. After the backpack incident, Le Du asked if Krebs advised Gueren to write up what had happened in good humor, and he said "no," to which Le Du replied Gueren had testified he did.
He then asked, “Did you feel like it was in good humor?”
Krebs acknowledged, “No.”
Le Du asked Krebs if he believed bullying happens at Eldred, and Krebs replied, "yes." Le Du also asked if he would characterize Billy York as a bully.
Krebs answer was, “At times, yes.”
Krebs also said, “I feel a lot of remorse sometimes when kids get injured at school and I wish we could do things to prevent that.”
Le Du also asked if Krebs knew that Mr. and Mrs. Motta's parental rights were stripped of them after Anthony was put in the psych ward. Krebs said no. Le Du also asked if Krebs himself had had his parental rights stripped, and he said "yes." De Wind objected to further questioning on the issue, which Judge Schick upheld.
After the orange-throwing incident, which occurred after Anthony came back to school from the psych ward, Krebs sent Christine a letter promising to try to keep Anthony away from “students he had concerns with in the past. “
Le Du’s final questions were, “And you felt like you were keeping Anthony safe at this point?”
Krebs said, “We did our best to keep him apart from any person that Mrs. Motta said he was having a concern with.”
Le Du, “Was your best good enough?”
Krebs replied, “Always you're going to have students that don't follow rules and sometimes you can't always understand what's going to be the outcome thereafter.”