By Elizabeth Corridan
SOUTH HADLEY, Mass. (WGGB) – The battle against the bullies continues in South Hadley. Nearly six weeks after freshman Phoebe Prince took her own life, and one day after learning that her alleged bullies are no longer students at South Hadley High School, the Anti-Bullying Task Force convened for the first time.
The first meeting was about getting a handle on the many concerns and questions plaguing the community. Everyone was asked to fill out a questionnaire. After an introduction from Principal Dan Smith, everyone broke out into smaller discussion groups focused on issues ranging from school policies to parent programs. All of the information is going to be compiled and used to drive the task force forward and eventually create district-wide policy changes.
Many in attendance were not just there to volunteer their time and ideas, but also to show their support for Smith. Some wore stickers pledging their support; others gave Smith a standing ovation that moved the principal to tears. Smith thanked the audience, praised the students in attendance, and said, “We’ve got to move on.”
While a protest planned for outside the meeting was canceled due to the weather, a petition was still circulating calling for Superintendent Gus Sayer to resign. Some parents say they are angry over the way Sayer and the administration handled Prince’s death and the subsequent investigation. As of Tuesday night more than 1000 people had signed the petition. Parent Susan Smith says, “At this time it’s focused on changing out the Superintendent, the person we feel is responsible for implementing strict policies and should have done that many, many years ago.”
Most agreed that the challenge now is going to be sustaining the momentum created by the first meeting. Principal Smith says the task force will meet weekly until all the key issues are identified and the community as a whole can begin to move forward, enacting changes that will make the district stronger.