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SCHOOL SAFETY District, mother at an impasse



Published: Thu, June 3, 2004 @ 12:00 a.m.



McGee said transfers are made only under extreme circumstances.

By JoANNE VIVIANO

VINDICATOR EDUCATION WRITER

YOUNGSTOWN -- Curtis Daye likes to learn, but it's been nearly a month since he went to school.

The Jackson Elementary School third-grader said he wants to go back to school, but "not this school."

"I don't want to get jumped," he said.

Curtis, 11, said he's afraid to go to school because he was attacked on the school bus by several other children in early May. He defended himself but said he doesn't want to return to school because there's a group there waiting to beat him up.

His mother, Michelle Macovitz, said the school district has not taken steps to keep her son safe and she won't send Curtis or his two younger sisters to school.

"These kids viciously assaulted my son," Macovitz said. "Imagine if that was your son and no one was helping you. ... That's the reason we have school shootings, because they let bullying and do nothing about it."

But district officials say Macovitz is violating state law by allowing her children to remain truant. They also give a different version of the school bus fight, saying Curtis took at least three swings, striking other children, including a girl who asked him to sit down.

"He was not a totally innocent victim in this situation," Superintendent Ben McGee said.

The superintendent said that none of the children involved are chronic troublemakers and that the district has dealt with them regarding this matter. Some children were suspended from the bus for the remainder of the year or received school suspensions, he said. One boy was kicked out of school and is finishing the year on home instruction, added Kenneth Ekis, Jackson principal.

McGee said Curtis was not suspended for his role in the fracas but could have been. A 6-year-old boy who hit Curtis from behind also was not disciplined by the school. That boy had never been in trouble before, Ekis said, and he believes the child will be effectively disciplined by his parents.

McGee said Macovitz's children are safe at Jackson.

But Macovitz disagrees. She said the group of children on the bus has harassed her children throughout the school year, including one who hit one of her daughters on the first day of school.

Macovitz said she's complained several times to the principal but the children were not disciplined. Then, on May 3, Curtis was attacked, coming home with bumps on his head. That's when Macovitz decided she would not send her children to school.

McGee and Ekis said the principal has responded to Macovitz's concerns, at one point providing transportation so she and her husband could meet with him. They said she canceled one meeting to discuss her children's attendance. Macovitz said she and her husband have no car so transportation to meetings is sometimes difficult.

Watched videotape

Macovitz's husband, Francisco Ruiz, said that he watched a school bus videotape that recorded the fight, and that five other children were involved, with some provoking and others punching or slapping Curtis. He said Curtis tries only to defend himself on the tape and that one child hits Curtis seven times from behind. The parents say the boy who hit Curtis the most is the boy who was not disciplined.

The Vindicator asked to review the bus security videotape but declined after the newspaper was told it would have to pay $425 to have the faces of children in the tape blurred.

Macovitz said she is frustrated that the children were not dealt with more harshly. She also filed police reports and said she is further frustrated that the children are not being disciplined through juvenile court. Youngstown Police Lt. Robin Lees said officers referred Macovitz's complaint to juvenile court, where a prosecutor declined to press charges because of the young ages of those involved, but sought a hearing to place the children "on notice." Lees said Macovitz failed to contact the prosecutor and the meeting never took place.

Macovitz said she did not want to take her son to a hearing where he would have to face his attackers. But she recently called to arrange the meeting after learning no action would be taken unless the meeting was held, she said.

Requests turned down

Macovitz said she has asked to have her children transferred to a different school or to have their schoolwork sent home, but school officials have refused.

Such requests are not met for this type of issue, McGee said, adding that transfers are made only under extreme circumstances when there is an ongoing problem.

"The district certainly would be remiss if we would sanction truancy by simply sending work home when kids are not coming to school," he said. "It's unacceptable to make the demands being made here."

Macovitz said she feels she has tried to work things out with administrators but has not been treated with respect. Most recently, she said, she was told that her decision to keep her children home violates state law.

"If I have to go to jail because I won't send my kids to school because I'm trying to protect them, I think that's so sad," she said. "If it comes down to my kids being safe or my kids getting an education, I choose safety."

McGee said his goal is not to file criminal charges but to have the children return to school while allaying the concerns of the parents. He said they might also have to attend some summer school to make up assignments they've missed over the past weeks.

"They're pretty good kids at our school, and we want them back," Ekis added.




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