A town hall meeting about bullying at went off the rails Tuesday afternoon when parents erupted in anger at administrators.
Some parents felt the district did not act swiftly enough to identify and punish four male students to the homes of several female students earlier this month.
The typewritten letters, sent earlier this month, included allegations of sexual practices and other personal information about several seniors at Fordson. Copycat letters then spread to underclassmen, as well as at and Crestwood high schools.
Tuesday's meeting began with Fordson Principal Youssef Mosallam explaining to parents, students, administrators and community leaders what measures were being taken to curb bullying, and how school officials handle the incidents when they occur.
When a few community leaders spoke about the recent letters, several parents erupted in anger at school administrators.
“Why didn’t you begin an investigation after the first letters came out?” said one parent. “Why did you wait?”
One family walked out of the meeting, telling the crowd that, “They’re not going to answer questions,” and questioning why more parents weren't informed about the meeting.
The town hall was cut short when arguments and yelling from attendees got too heated. Mosallam told parents that they could speak with him afterward, or at a later date.
Letters, Now Death Threats
After the letters were discovered, administrators conducted a probe and handed information over to the for further investigation.
Some parents have called for further punishment for the boys—including expulsion. The mother of one of the boys who wrote the letters gave permission to the parents of the victims to call her or her son, said Fordson Assistant Principal Maysam Alie-Bazzi.
Some parents questioned whether the school handled the punishment correctly, or harshly enough. But Mosallam said that it’s his job to protect the victims and the perpetrators, and that the boys responsible have received death threats.
“When they’re receiving death threats, yes, I have to protect them,” he said.
A school resources police officer was on hand at the meeting, and said there is an ongoing police investigation on the letters. However, he said could not guarantee any charges would be brought against the students because that is the responsibility of the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office.
Lists are Nothing New
According to one former student, these sorts of letters have occurred in the past—but the situations were better handled.
“We had the same sort of letter come out when I was in school in 1997,” said Suhaila Amen of the in Dearborn. “It’s almost to a T. I just would like to know how this got to the point where it showed up on my Twitter feed and my Facebook.”
Both Mosallam and Dearborn Public Schools Supt. Brian Whiston said the schools reacted as soon as they found out. Mosellam said that he could not act on anonymous information he received initially.
“I cannot bring consequences on anyone as the result of an anonymous tip,” he said.
Whiston said it’s important to remember this incident did not happen at the school.
“It happened away from school,” he said. “I think parents would like us do more, and we’re doing all we can.”
Mosallam said information that spreads online is insidious and difficult to stop, and that there is still an ongoing investigation at the school.
“It’s difficult because you don’t know where the information came from, or where it’s going,” he said.
The letters are serving as the first test of the district-community anti-bullying policy, which was at an event attended by teachers, parents, community leaders and business people, along with Whiston and Dearborn Mayor Jack O’Reilly.
Whiston said he was disappointed the meeting ended before all of the information could be presented. He said that the district is staying the course with its anti-bullying program, and will do its best to hold the individuals responsible for writing and distributing the letters.
One student, Mariam Jalloul, said the letters are not indicative of the behavior of students at her school, and that most were surprised at their classmates’ conduct.
“I don’t think of Fordson as a school. I think of it as a family,” she said. “I wouldn’t want anyone to think that this went unnoticed at school.”