Confronting bullies
By Samer Hijazi | Sunday, 03.04.2012, 11:04 AM

  • Parents flare up over defamatory letters at Fordson meetings
  • School officials, community leaders pledge cooperation
DEARBORN — Emotions ran high this week at Fordson High School when Principal Youssef Mosallam had called for a community meeting to discuss bullying initiatives with parents, staff members and community leaders. However some parents expressed some strong emotions towards the principal and other staff members, leading one meeting to an abrupt and unresolved ending on Tuesday evening. A second meeting was immediately scheduled for the next day due to the overwhelming response of frustrated parents that had voiced their opinions.  
Principal Mosallam had called the Tuesday meeting for community leaders to come together and discuss ways to prevent bullying, as a response to two obscene letters that had been written about select female students by a few males in the school over the last month.
 The first letter had been sent to the homes of some senior girls which had described them engaging in sexual activities with other guys. A couple of weeks later, a second letter distributed in the same vein had targeted sophomore girls. Suspects were named in both cases, but parents of the victims continued to argue that minimal efforts were taken by the school and local authorities to punish those suspected.
 First Meeting
Principal Mosallam had started the meeting with a PowerPoint presentation that highlighted some of the school’s positive contributions, which included initiatives taken by both staff members and student leaders.  Among the initiatives pointed out included creating an anti-bullying campaign titled “End it, don’t send it.” He also gave a description of what steps the administration takes when a bullying incident occurs.
“Our first responsibility is to ensure the safety of everyone involved. That includes the bullied and the bully,” Mr. Mosallam stated. “Our goal is to do whatever possible to persuade bullying and make sure every adult and child is safe and comfortable.”
Principal Mosallam continued his presentation by defining the different types of bullying and pointed out that with cyber bullying on the rise, it’s hard to determine where the root of the problem begins. He also mentioned that the most difficult type of bullying is anonymous bullying, which is what the vulgar letters could have been considered.
Principal Mosallam went on to explain the approach the school takes when dealing with a bully, in a practice called “Discipline and Dignity.”
“We need to make sure those who did the bullying are taught a lesson,” Principal Mosallam noted. “But we cannot do reverse bullying, it just makes the problem grow.” 
Ahmad Dabaja, the school’s Vice President of Student Government echoed on the Principal’s statements.
“The bullies are the ones that want to stand out. Our goal is to accept them and help them try to fit in,” Dabaja stated. “Ignoring bullying is one way to stop it. Address the student who did the bullying, but don’t give them a hard punishment.”
Officer Lingel, assigned by the Dearborn Police as the school officer, was also present at the meeting. He noted that the police department usually lets the high schools solve issues such as bullying and that the police would only need to be used as a last resort. 
“Everyone is aware of the letters that have gone out,” Officer Lingel stated. “Some parents think it’s been put aside, but we are still working on it. It’s very possible that some charges will be brought out of that.”
Another student at the community meeting also felt it was necessary to highlight some of Fordson’s accomplishments, which many people might not be aware of. The accomplishments mentioned included Fordson’s Key Club being the highest awarded in the state and the school having the most recipients for ADC’s annual scholarship reception a few weeks ago (which the Arab American News covered and noted.)
“I feel it’s very important to discuss the amazing accomplishments,” said Mariam Jalloul, a senior and a member of the Student Advisory Council. “I’m sick and tired of the 5 percent taking over the 95 percent of the students at Fordson.”
The tension in the room began to escalate after Principal Mosallam stated that they could not give consequences to any students based on an anonymous tip.
 “We have done everything in our power to support everyone in the matter. When the accused has received death threats, it’s a matter to us too,” Principal Mosallam stated. “I don’t want to focus on the letters. All it will do is point fingers and I don’t want that.”
But it seemed the only issue the parents of the victims wanted to talk about was the letters, after a few of them noted that they had been sitting down during the majority of the meeting waiting for their turn to speak.
“I don’t want to hear about the school’s accomplishments,” shouted one disgruntled parent. “I already know about all of that. I want to know what the accomplishment is going to be regarding these letters.”
Another parent pointed out that some of the girls who were victims of the letters had been present and that they weren’t given the opportunity to speak. 
“Why are we letting students who have nothing to do with the problem say anything? Let the girls talk,” shouted another parent. 
Before any of the victims were given an opportunity to speak, the environment in the room had become uncontrollable, with students, parents and victims shouting from all angles. Some parents were claiming that they were not informed or personally invited by the Fordson staff to attend the current meeting that had been taking place. Other parents were making even more harsh accusations.
“You are only protecting the accused!” shouted one parent before storming out of the meeting.
Some Fordson staff members claimed that an alert about the meeting had been sent out in an online newsletter, even though parents continued to stress that efforts made to contact the victims’ families was minimal. 
“We need to understand as a community that morals need to be taught at home,” said Zainab Ali, a Parent-Community Liaison. “All we can do is teach education and respect here.”
One of the victims stated after the meeting that those who were accused weren’t just suspects, but that there was valid proof to justify their guilt and one of them even admitted to being responsible. One of the girls had even received an accidental text message by a male student which proved he was guilty, only to have him backtrack once he was questioned.
Second Meeting
After much consulting and pressure, it was finally agreed by Principal Mosallam to set up a private meeting with the victims and their parents to take place on the following evening. According to some of the parents who attended the meeting, it went a lot smoother than the first meeting.
“We finally feel like our concerns have been addressed,” said one mother after the meeting. “All the parents left the meeting satisfied because they were finally given the opportunity to speak.”
Parents weren’t the only ones who finally expressed their concerns. A few of the girls who were victims of the letters had finally been given the opportunity to speak up. The girls expressed how suspending the suspects would not be enough, because that’s not viewed as a punishment but rather as a reward, since the students wouldn’t have to go to school for days and could sleep in and play video games.
During the meeting, it was decided that a committee would be formed consisting of parents, leaders and students who will review the developments in these particular cases every month. The superintendent also promised that they would review the laws very closely with prosecutors to see if they can find any sort of loopholes that can hold the suspects accountable.
It was also revealed during this meeting that an investigation was launched after the first letter had been distributed, but they were not able to pinpoint it back to one person, therefore no punishments had been issued. As for the second letter, Principal Mosallam had apologized to the parents for mishandling that situation and stated it could’ve been handled differently, according to the parents. 
Some parents also admitted that they shouldn’t have solely put the blame on Principal Mosallam and agreed that they too should be held accountable.
“Here we are complaining to the principal about issues within the school, yet never once have I ever attended a PTA meeting,” admitted one father. “It was a very positive, proactive meeting. That’s what we had been asking for all along.” 

By Samer Hijazi

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