On the afternoon of Dec. 2, 2010, Wisdom Lane Middle School students Barbara-Ann Reyman and Caitlin Harrs were on the bus home from school when a seventh grade boy started bullying a sixth grader.
Instead of becoming bystanders as many children do when faced with a threatening situation, Barbara-Ann and Caitlin stood up for the target and told the bully to leave him alone. They made it clear that they would notify their parents and the staff at Wisdom Lane, which they did to ensure the young boy's safety.
"We have all been horrified by the news reports depicting the tragic effects of bullying," Kiwanis Service Leadership Chair Rich Santer said at the Levittown Kiwanis meeting last Thursday night, where the two girls were honored for their bravery with Everyday Hero Awards. "We recall the shootings in Columbine, the suicide of Phoebe Prince and, closer to home, the incident involving the Mepham football team."
In attendance to issue a citation for the sixth graders' act of selflessness were Town of Hempstead Supervisor Kate Murray and Town Councilman Gary Hudes. Levittown Public Schools Superintendent Herman Sirois and Board of Education President Mike Pappas were also in the packed meeting to thank the girls for bettering the district with their actions.
The Everyday Hero Award was created to thank people in the community who do special things without expecting anything in return, said Joe Corace, president of the Kiwanis Pediatric Trauma Center.
"We cannot say what tragedy these girls may have averted. We cannot say for certain if they saved a life," Santer said. "What we can say is, our honorees exhibit the best of our Kiwanis Family values. They stepped up to help others. They helped a child. Each of them chose the high road and stepped in to help someone in need."
This incident was not the first case of bullying on a Levittown school bus this school year.
Gene and Janet Browne, whose 5-year-old son Zachary is a kindergarten student at East Broadway Elementary School, say their son was confronted by two children, a brother and sister in first and third grade, on the school bus on Nov. 15, 2010.
The Brownes said Zachary told them the kids said they hated him and his mother and wanted him to die.
The following day, the Brownes said they were notified that the children were spoken to in school, and while the girl did not deny the death threat, she claimed her brother said it.
The kids were separated on the bus. The first and third grader were not assigned to Zachary's bus stop, but their father continuously dropped them off there, the Brownes said.
When Zachary brought up the past death threat to the driver of his bus in December and told him the kids should not be on the bus, he was suspended from the bus for two days as it was counted as his third incident after two minor infractions (hitting another child and wrestling over the seat), which, by school policy, merits a suspension.
"How is this an incident against my son?" asked Janet Browne. "He stated the truth, they are not supposed to get on there. He did not say this happened now, he was reminding the adult driving the bus that they bothered him and should not be there."
The Brownes said the school advised them that they would be holding a meeting with the parents of the bullies to address the issue. Since the meeting was scheduled for 9 a.m. on a Thursday, the Brownes were unable to get the time off from work and asked if the meeting could be moved. They also asked that the suspension be moved until they could meet with the school.
When Mark Schissler, interim assistant superintendent in the department of business and finance, informed the Brownes that he would meet with them after the holidays but would not delay the meeting with the other parents or the suspension, the Brownes said they started calling members of the school board.
Board trustee James Ward advised the Brownes to speak at the "Public Be Heard" section of the Board of Education meeting on Dec. 15, Janet Browne said.
However when the Brownes spoke at the meeting, Pappas advised the meeting was not a public matter and the board went into executive session. Nothing was overturned.
Sirois said school officials could not comment on the case because of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), a federal law that protects the privacy of student education records.
It was directly from this meeting that the Brownes say they headed to the Nassau County Police Department's 7th Precinct to address the matter, after Sirois stated that a death threat should be taken up with the police.
Janet Browne said there was nothing the police could do but that they issued an incident report. The 7th Precinct was also unable to comment on the case.
Since then, the Brownes say no one has returned their calls and they are requesting information regarding how to take Zachary out of the school district. He is still not taking the bus because they do not feel safe, they said. Janet Browne said that the bus stop in question currently stands abandoned, as all the children have moved to other stops.
"This is not right," she said. "We have a 5-year-old son who wants to ride the bus and has a blast in school, but he can't because of these people."
"There is nothing we know about where the bullies got punished," Gene Browne said. "My kid was the only one sanctioned. There is no closure here."