The School District of Philadelphia, a former teacher and the former principal of William C. Bryant Elementary School in West Philadelphia, will soon be appearing before a judge. They were all named in a lawsuit which details repeated and escalating verbal and ultimately sexual assault against one, nine-year old boy.
The parents notified the school early on. The school officials were too busy to listen.
Note: The accounts that follow are all from the lawsuit and this case hasn’t gone to court yet. If this were a newspaper, I would be using the words, “alleged”, “allegedly”, and “allegations,” very liberally throughout the remainder of the piece. It’s good to be skeptical, but I think there are a lot of reasons to believe the boy’s account.
The nine-year old transferred in October 2011. He says that slurs and insults began almost immediately, as a group of boys questioned his sexuality. The same boys shoulder checked him in the hallways and beat him up after school. They also forced him to watch gay porn and made him hump the school flagpole as the other children laughed.
According to the suit, the child tried to drown out their taunts with gospel music, but his bullies watched porn directly in front of him. I have to ask, does everyone in this school have a smart phone with a data plan?
On Oct. 24, 2011, three classmates followed the boy into the bathroom. One student held him in a headlock while two others pulled down his pants and underwear and forced him to the floor.
One boy yelled “give it to the f—-t, he wants it.” Then another tried to anally rape the boy. They stopped when they heard a teacher approach, but before they left, they threatened to kill him if he told anyone.
Notice, only weeks had passed since he entered the school.
Both the child and his mother had tried repeatedly to speak to the principal, Jala Pearson in the weeks leading up to the attack. The boy had gone to her office more than once, just like kids are supposed to do when they are being bullied. She was never available.
The mother made appointments to see her. Again, the Pearson wasn’t available. The mother was told that the meetings would be rescheduled, but the school never followed up. When she finally did talk to Pearson, she was told that although she had received the messages, Pearson was very busy as the school had minimal staff.
Then she sat down with the teacher, Jason Johnson. He acknowledged the bullying, but assured her that he would keep an eye on her child.
She didn’t find out about the attempted rape until 10 days after it happened. One day later she called the police and withdrew him from school.
Since then the boy has suffered severe anxiety. He no longer plays his favorite sports, and is afraid to leave the house. More troubling, he says that he hears voices telling him to sexually assault other people. Something that he attempted to act on with a relative, a year later.
Before his time at William C. Bryant, he had never had an issue with mental his health, nor had he displayed signs of sexual dysfunction. Since then he’s attempted suicide twice; once while in the care of a psychiatric facility.
And the bullies? Police charged them with attempted rape, indecent assault, unlawful restraint and related counts. They were ordered to undergo counseling, and they were suspended from school… for one week.
It’s clear that something took place. After the incident, a letter was sent home to the parents of the school, alluding to the incident but giving few details. They also changed their bathroom policy, sending kids two at a time rather than alone.
Who do we blame? The three bullies, ages 10 and 11, have already been labeled animals in the comments of a Philadelphia paper. That’s hard to argue with, but, children don’t grow in vacuums. Most bullies grew up in abusive households. I suspect, if and when the police follow through with the charges, incidents of both physical and sexual abuse will be uncovered in their homes.
What about the teacher and principal? I don’t doubt that Johnson and Pearson could have stopped it. But when schools cut their budgets and remove staff, those that remain are forced to make compromises. They can’t be everywhere.
Pearson no longer works for the district. She was reassigned to another school which later closed. Johnson was reassigned to a third grade class in South Philadelphia.
Both of them have a lot to lose. They failed a child that was in their care. One that they had been put on notice to look out for. But let’s be clear. That boy isn’t the only child that is suffering because of a school system that is being pulled apart at the seams.
When you add more students while making deep cuts to the staff, children suffer.