Peachtree Charter Middle School’s administration is drawing criticism for its late response to allegations that a teacher bullied and assaulted a student. The incident is the latest for a school that was previously under an agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice to curb discrimination and bullying.
A teacher who reportedly tripped a student and used anti-Semitic comments against Jewish students was not removed from the classroom until weeks after students reported the incidents in December, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
The local Board of Education representative, Stan Jester, criticized the school for its late response to allegations. He said bullying is a widespread problem at Peachtree Middle, located on North Peachtree Road in Dunwoody. Jester himself was the subject of a January complaint alleging that he bullied a former Peachtree Charter Middle School Foundation member.
Lauren Menis, the founder of the Atlanta Initiative Against Anti-Semitism, said that the teacher should not have remained in the classroom.
“If a teacher accused of something like this is still in a class teaching, that’s not good,” she said.
Menis said she was most concerned by the severity of the allegations and how the school responded.
“This appears to go beyond hate to actual assault,” she said.
The DeKalb County School District did not respond to requests for comment.
She said it’s inevitable that some bullying will occur in schools, but schools need to be prepared to handle it and be proactive.
“Bad things happen and are going to. What’s important is how the principal and administration reacts,” she said.
She said school administration and district leaders need to keep communication lines open, including by sending schoolwide emails, and check in with families.
“When you have an administration that doesn’t address an incident, you end up with students who feel isolated and anxious,” Menis said. “A child shouldn’t go to a school and feel unsafe.”
The group held a forum on preventing anti-Semitism and other forms of bullying in schools last year, which was not attended by a representative for Peachtree Middle, Menis said. The participants, which included representatives from over 20 schools, signed a pledge at the forum that they would implement strategies to prevent bullying, she said.
The Anti-Defamation League, who helped lead the AIAAS school forum, has reached out to Peachtree Middle, but does not have all the information about the incident, so Southeast Regional Director Allison Padilla-Goodman declined to comment on the specific incident.
She said the organization has worked with Peachtree Middle to reduce bullying and sent materials to them in the past.
“We’re always concerned when instances of discrimination and bullying hit the headlines,” Padilla-Goodman said.
Jester, who represents Region 1 on the DeKalb Board of Education, said he is disappointed the school administration did not respond more quickly.
“I’m disappointed with the way the leadership handled this issue. Nothing was done until the mother went to the media,” he said.
He said bullying and the school leadership not being able to protect the students is a systematic problem.
The DeKalb County School District signed an agreement with the Department of Justice in 2013 to take steps to reduce bullying in Peachtree Middle after a complaint alleged a student was targeted with verbal and physical harassment because of his Sikh faith.
The agreement ended in 2015, but Jester said the department or school district may need to step in again to prevent bullying incidents at the school.
“I would like to see the school district or Department of Justice take whatever steps necessary,” he said.
The complaint included allegations that the student was called “Aladdin” because he wore a turban and was told by a fellow student to “go back to his country,” according to the agreement. The Department of Justice also found that the district had not investigated witness statements that the student had been called a “terrorist.” The department investigation also found that the disciplinary measures were not severe enough to stop the bullying, the agreement said.
The district agreed to revise its policies and procedures that address harassment and bullying and train Peachtree Middle students and staff on religious and national origin harassment, the agreement said.
Jester himself has been the subject of a complaint that he threatened and bullied the former co-chair of the Peachtree Middle foundation. She resigned because she did not feel “secure” making decisions or suggestions for the school due to Jester’s behavior in a Dec. 14 meeting, according to the complaint.
Jester maintains that her allegations are unfounded, and that she was part of the bullying problem at the school.
“I was complaining at the time that she was part of the bullying issue, then she accused me of being part of the problem,” Jester said.