Parents want swift action after racial verbal and physical harassment of middle school student

Kristin Thorne Image
Tuesday, May 11, 2021
Parents want swift action after racial harassment of middle school student
The boy's mother wrote on social media that a student pushed her son in the back and punched him saying, "Go back to your country, Asian."

SYOSSET, Long Island (WABC) -- Parents in the Syosset Central School District are demanding district administrators take swift action in the race-based verbal and physical harassment of a sixth grade student last week.

School officials said it happened during recess last Thursday at South Woods Middle School.

The boy's mother wrote on social media that a student pushed her son in the back and punched him saying, "Go back to your country, Asian." She said other students shouted things like, "COVID Starter" and "White Lives Matter, too."

The school district superintendent Thomas Rogers told parents that more than two dozen individuals have been interviewed regarding the incident and, in the course of the investigation, the district learned of multiple incidents where students made verbally biased statements to other students at the middle school.

"Racism, bias, intolerance, and hate have no place here in Syosset," Rogers said.

According to the New York State Department of Education, 38% of students in the Syosset School District are Asian. Fifty-five percent are white.

Parents at a school board meeting on Monday night spoke for nearly two hours to express their concern about the incidents.

"A hate act to one child is a hate act to all," one parent said.

"What concerns me, was this an isolated incident or was it something more?" another said.

Rogers told parents, "We have room to improve, your feedback helps us improve and we're committed to that improvement."

Syosset High School seniors Brian Gao and Ariane Lee started a group last spring called Asians Speak Up.

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Gao said he has never experienced racial attacks at school, but has heard of it happening to other students.

"I think when the instances do occur the school handles it appropriately," he said.

Lee said she believes school district officials could be doing more to promote tolerance and respect.

"I want to see more action," she said.

The incident reminds people in the Syosset community of when police in 2017 arrested five Syosset High School students for spray painting swastikas and other anti-Semitic messages on walls, doors and windows of the school.

"The same spirit that animated us in 2017 lives in us today," Rogers told parents on Monday night. "This is serious. We try to do the best work we can. We try to do it in a way that is responsible that complies with the law, that is aware of the ages of the people that we're dealing with and that repairs the harm as much as we can."

Rogers said the school district is partnering with the Nassau County Office of Asian-American Affairs for the investigation and on how to proceed. He said the school district has reached out to community groups which promote tolerance and will have them engage with the school community.

Rogers told parents he will not be able to provide many specifics about the investigation and course of action against those involved due to legal reasons.

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CeFaan Kim talks to the child's mother about the incident


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