Smithtown High School West student Gabrielle Petagna took administrators and the school board to task Tuesday night for failing to react following a brutal school bathroom attack that has left her physically and emotionally scarred.
“These eight students took away my right to safety. Why is the school protecting their rights to privacy?” Gabrielle Petagna said during her address at the Board of Education meeting.
Petagna said she was lured into a West bathroom on Dec. 7, 2011 by someone she considered a friend at the time and was attacked while eight people watched and cheered the attacker on. The result of the attack, according to Petagna, included multiple doctor visits, a concussion, dizziness, headaches, fatigue, difficulties with concentration and nightmares of the ambush.
Medically cleared to return to class Jan. 3, Petagna said the headaches and fatigue still linger and the incident has caused stress for her and her family.
“You would expect that when something this terrible and violent happens that the school would do everything possible to punish the students involved, to let everyone know that this is unacceptable behavior and will not be tolerated, but that is not what happened,” Petagna said.
Before the public speaking portion of the board meeting continued, Superintendent Edward Ehmann gave an explanation of the school’s actions following the incident.
“Whenever there is student altercations the school district takes the action that it can take in a court of law with due process and the district has taken very serious action in this matter. We hear what the student has to say to us, we will take her comments under advisement, but at the end of the day the district is doing what it can do according to the law,” Ehmann said.
Those in attendance were not pleased with what Ehmann had to say, specifically with the use of the word “altercation.”
Ehmann used the word “altercation” repeatedly in his explanation, prompting members of the audience to shout the word “assault.”
“Let’s call it what it is,” one person yelled from the audience.
“Is there a script in front of you? This was an assault, not an altercation,” yelled another.
Ehmann continued to say he would answer any questions the parents had if they stayed after the meeting.
More shouts erupted from the audience, asking what the district could do according to law and asking for details on the district's zero tolerance policy, which deals with student discipline.
When the answers didn’t come, people began to leave.
Parents questioned their rights to be informed of serious events like this and asked Ehmann after the meeting why they weren’t notified when they receive letters home for other things that could affect their kids, such as a suspicious van trolling the community.
Ehmann responded by saying he would speak with the principals of the school and see how, if at all, information on incidents of this nature could be disseminated to the public.
Citing state laws, Ehmann would not provide information on the disciplinary action taken against the eight students, but did confirm that action was taken against all eight involved.
Ehmann also explained that there are two types of suspensions that could be issued – a five-day maximum suspension that could be issued by the school principal, and a superintendents hearing, a legal due process protocol where the student has the right to bring legal council, the district’s lawyers are present, and suspensions up to a calendar year could be handed out.
Ehmann confirmed that the student that assaulted Petagna had a superintendents hearing.