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Education

‘This isn’t who we are’: Severna Park community discusses inclusiveness at public meeting after bullying video

A student shown bullying a fellow student with special needs in a viral video taken at Severna Park High School no longer attends the school, Principal Lindsey Abruzzo said.

The announcement followed Abruzzo’s address to the Anne Arundel County Public Schools community in a public forum Monday night in response to a bullying incident that occurred on Jan. 10.

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The video shows a student making threats of violence and using racial slurs and epithets that are demeaning toward people with special needs. At 1:30 p.m., the video was spread to approximately 130 students and staff, who immediately reported it to school leadership, Abruzzo said.

“This isn’t who we are, and it’s not who we stand for,” Abruzzo said, addressing the crowd of about 100. “So, while this was a horrible, horrible incident that has occurred here, the one thing I do ask of you is to remember that both the perpetrator and victim are children; we don’t have to like their actions, but they are still children, [and] I can tell you both the perpetrator and victim are getting the support they need.”

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The incident was reported to the “appropriate agencies and offices,” including police, she said.

Superintendent Mark Bedell organized the meeting to encourage parents and other attendees to discuss both public and individual perceptions of acceptance and inclusiveness in public schools and how they can be improved. Attendees formed small groups to discuss the questions Bedell proposed.

Bedell plans to post the input online and use it as a basis for future initiatives.

In one of the groups, Lauren Ochleck, a parent of an elementary school student, , said she is optimistic that Bedell and his leadership team will take these problems head-on, but they need to be addressed at the systemic level more than just the school level.

“Things were very much hopeless before [Bedell and his team] came along, but we can see the tide turning with them here,” she said.

Adults must do their part and stop ignoring the problem, said Bedell, who began serving as superintendent last August.

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“We have to stop turning our heads the other way as if these things don’t happen,” he said. “The problems exist. We call it like we see it, [and evaluate] how we move forward together.”

Abruzzo sent a letter home to parents the day of the incident saying the situation had been “swiftly” addressed. She and her assistant principals and school resource officers later met with the parents of the victim and perpetrator, who it was determined had asked that the video be taken.

She also said the video was posted to Twitter by an anonymous account and was later posted to the video-based social media platform TikTok, where it went viral.

The TikTok creator known as TizzyEnt republished the video, encouraging his followers to not attack the school and its administration, but to express their displeasure with the situation.

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“The phone never stopped ringing that entire day,” Abruzzo said. “I answered emails from Canada, California, Australia, Ireland, and every state in the United States, and I answered every single one myself. If they took the time to write it, I took the time to answer it.”

Moving forward, the school will be implementing an initiative for kindness and anti-bullying by designing a pair of Vans shoes for Abruzzo to wear. There will be grade-level assemblies to address the responsibility of “see something, say something” starting next Monday, and advisory lessons intervening with bullying rather than doing nothing..

Parent Rich Ceruolo echoed those statements, citing that examples like having a single “Unity Day” each academic year, where students are encouraged to wear the color orange as a symbol that no student should ever experience the act of bullying, is not enough.

“It’s nice that they’re doing that on the school level, but is that really enough to change the culture within the entire school district?” Ceruolo said.

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For the record

A previous version of this story misstated the punishment of the Severna Park student who was caught on camera bullying a student with special needs. The Capital regrets the error.


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