No New Charges Planned In Threat Made Against Student
By: Mary Stanley
Sandwich police have concluded their investigation into a report that a 13-year-old boy had threatened to kill another boy with a knife at a high school football game in town.
“We are not seeking to add any more charges against this boy and we are not charging any other individuals,” said Sergeant Michael J. Nurse. Last week, police summonsed a 13-year-old Forestdale School 8th grader to court on a charge of threatening to commit a crime, murder. The summons was issued after the victim’s father reported to police that he listened in on a telephone conversation where the suspect told his son, who is an 8th grader at the Oak Ridge School, that he was going to “slice” him “like a samurai.”
According to police reports, an individual sent a text message to the victim and told him not to attend the Sandwich High School varsity football game because a group of boys there was going to hurt him. That message was followed by the phone call in which the threat was made.
Sergeant Nurse said that the complaint has been forwarded to the district attorney’s office for review.
He said after interviewing the four boys who were allegedly involved in this incident, he is confident that no other crimes occurred and he believes these were idle threats.
“My gut tells me that it was a group of kids standing around talking at the football game, trying to impress each other and anybody else who was within earshot. But we can’t take threats lightly. In today’s world, we don’t have the luxury of taking these things lightly. That’s why we sent the report to the district attorney’s office,” he said.
While some in the community have questioned why charges of conspiracy to commit murder, which is a felony, were not leveled, the administrative sergeant explained that it does not fit the legal definition of that term. “We can’t charge conspiracy to commit murder because that deals with two or more people working together that have an informal agreement and that have a plan. There was no indication of an informal agreement or that preplanning had occurred. We can’t even determine if the boy charged in this case actually brought a knife to the football game,” he said.
The sergeant went on to say that some of the people interviewed in this matter said that one of the boys in the group did have a knife, but it was described as a small pocketknife.
“It’s not illegal to have a pocketknife,” said Sergeant Nurse. After the police department completed its investigation, investigators spoke to school officials about their findings. And after school administrators conducted their own investigation into the incident, which occurred at a school-related function, school officials leveled their own disciplinary action.
“The matter was brought to our attention last Tuesday, when the students returned to school. We spoke with police officers to discuss their findings and then the school conducted its own investigation. Punishments have been leveled on four students. Two have been suspended from school for five days and two have been suspended for 10 days,” said Superintendent of Schools Mary Ellen Johnson.
Dr. Johnson said the school has been working diligently over the past few years to make the school environment a place where all students feel safe and respected. Over the last two years, she said, the school department has adopted a program called “The Responsive Classroom,” which teaches and practices social skills such as cooperation, assertion, and empathy. While the Responsive Classroom is targeted for students in grades kindergarten through 5, she said another program, an advisory program, is targeted for students in grades 6 through 12. This program seeks to build relationships among students and between students and teachers. “We are trying to be proactive when dealing with issues like this,” Dr. Johnson said.
When it comes to bullying or even teasing, Dr. Johnson said the schools have a responsibility to respond to that behavior.
“We can’t just ignore it,” she said.
Amy M. Muldowney, community educator with the Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center through Bridgewater State College, agrees with the action taken by the Sandwich Police Department and Sandwich School Department. “Eighth graders are old enough to know what they are doing and, if they don’t, it is up to educators to teach them,” she said.
The line between bullying and teasing is a fine one, she said, noting that bullying occurs when there is an imbalance of power.
“Imbalance of power can occur when one child is bigger than another or when it is one child versus a group. Kids tease each other but it becomes bullying when teasing is happening over and over again or when it occurs in a pattern, such as once a week, once a day,” she said.
She added that threats are not always defined as physical harm. “The threat to become a social outcast is also a threat,” she said. While schools have done a good job with minimizing the physical threats that occur, she said it is much more difficult to deal with the subtle threats, such as the threat to an individual’s social status or emotional well-being.
“Verbal abuse can be horrific,” she said.
As a community educator with MARC, Ms. Muldowney said this program is aimed at providing assemblies for teachers, parents, and students to educate them about bullying and what they can do to curb that behavior. Within that program, she said, the emphasis is not always placed on the aggressor or the victim, but rather on the students who witness the acts. She said these are the students who may not be doing the bullying, but are supporting it by encouraging it or by not stepping in to stop it.
“We focus on educating these students so that we can empower them to step in and do something to stop it,” she said.
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