Responding to a Facebook post written by Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice regarding bullying at Dundalk High School, Aberdeen Mayor Mike Bennett made his feelings known on bullying issues in his community's high school last week.
"I want to know exactly what is going on at Dundalk High School," the Ravens running back wrote Thursday morning on his official fan page, where he posts regular comments on bullying in schools. "NOT happy about all the messages I am getting from students about a boy being bullied so bad he is attempting to hurt himself repeatedly."
Bennett compared the situation to reports of bullying at Aberdeen High School – a lawsuit was filed against Harford County Public Schools in federal court in April by the parents of an Aberdeen High student who had allegedly been bullied since elementary school.
"Wow, sounds just like Aberdeen High School in Harford County," the mayor wrote on Rice's Facebook Page Thursday.
Bullying has become such a concern that two community meetings are scheduled in the coming weeks in Aberdeen to allow parents and residents to discuss bullying.
The first will be held for parents at the Aberdeen Senior Center at 7 Franklin St. on Wednesday, Dec. 11. Bennett will host the second meeting Tuesday, Dec. 17, at Aberdeen City Hall at 60 N. Parke St.
In the pending federal lawsuit, the parents of the special-needs child accused Harford school officials of not taking action to protect their son and retaliating against them.
Amy Garner-Lindecamp, who claims in the suit that her son was being victimized by bullies at Aberdeen and is one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, responded to Bennett's comment.
"Thank you Mr. Bennett for not being a bystander!!!" she wrote in response on Rice's Facebook Page.
Garner-Lindecamp also noted she had sent a personal message to Rice "explaining one of the major obstacles in HCPS that allows this to be ignored."
Rice visited Harford County in October to speak during an anti-bullying assembly at Bel Air High School.
He was invited to the school after the grandfather of a student won a raffle in which a Ravens player could visit a school.
Bel Air High School has taken part in the Rachel's Challenge campaign to stop bullying for the past three years – the program is named in honor of a student killed in the 1999 mass shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado.
Teri Kranefeld, manager of communications for Harford County Public Schools, said initiatives such as having a Ravens player visit or taking part in programs such as Rachel's Challenge are "school-based decisions."
Rice wrote in his Facebook post Thursday that he had also received messages that staff at Dundalk High were not taking action or making reports as required.
"Don't be a bystander and let this happen!" the post continued. "What the heck is going on?? Message me if you can shine some light on the situation over there because i do not like waking up to messages like this and quite honestly, this is avoidable and it PISSES ME OFF!"
The post generated 1,061 comments, 9,276 likes and 1,176 shares by Thursday evening.
Bennett was among those posting comments, and many agreed with Rice and shared their stories of bullying.
The mayor acknowledged in an interview later Thursday that the Aberdeen city government does not control what happens at the high school.
"The school is in our community and so things that are going on affect our citizens, and I felt like it was just time to step up and bring attention to some of things that are going on," he explained.
Bennett said "there's quite a bit of bullying and things like that going on at Aberdeen High School that are not being dealt with very effectively."
"It was good to see that other people are seeing the same problems and are addressing it," Garner-Lindecamp said in a phone interview. She said the lawsuit is in the discovery stages.
Garner-Lindecamp said her son is a senior at Aberdeen High and was adamant that he did not want to transfer to another school for his final year.
"He has good teachers; he has friends there," she said. "The problem is with the administration."
Lindecamp said that her son has special needs because of a "non-verbal learning disability" and walks with no coordination.
She said he has dealt with everything from taunts and name calling to physical assaults from fellow students, and school administrators have provided no assistance despite repeated attempts by her and her husband, Tim Lindecamp, the school's athletic director, to get them to respond.
Lindecamp said she and her family decided to sue because they had no other option – she said they are not seeking any money other than to cover the cost of attorney's fees and "accountability on what the administration has ignored."
Kranefeld said school system officials could not comment on ongoing litigation.
Kranefeld said parents can visit the school system's website to find out more information on how the school system handles bullying.
A webpage, http://www.hcps.org/cybersafety/, is available on the site; visitors can obtain forms to report bullying – either in person or online – harassment or intimidation, as well as read a brochure on cyber safety and a parents' guide for reporting incidents of bullying, harassment or intimidation.
The reporting forms are also posted on the website, distributed in the beginning of the school year and are available at multiple locations in the schools, including offices, cafeterias, media centers and counselors' offices.
School staffers who receive reports of bullying or harassment "shall respond accordingly and appropriately to investigate and intervene, as safety permits," according to the guide.
Anonymity, however, is not guaranteed during an investigation of a reported incident.
The school principal or "principal's designee" must determine if the incident can be considered a violation of policies against bullying.
Under state law, local school systems must report "incidents of bullying, cyber bullying, harassment, or intimidation against students" to the Maryland State Department of Education.