Gorham Middle School
GORHAM — A parent who says her son was the target of an obscene gesture by a school social worker is calling for the school employee to be fired.
Wendy Currie Knight says a middle school social worker last month flipped his middle finger at her son, Josh Knight, a middle school special education student, who she says has also been unabatedly bullied for two years at the school.
Now, the teenager has refused to return to the school and his mother said she feels “very disrespected” by school officials who ignored for months her request for a meeting and have failed to resolve the bullying.
School officials, silenced by confidentiality requirements, said they can’t discuss specific students, parents or staff personnel issues.
The incident caps two years of frustration and anger with the school district for Knight.
Just prior to the day of the incident, Knight said she filled out a bullying form that Josh, 13, delivered to the principal’s office at the middle school. An administrator made an appointment for her son to meet with Thom Courtney, the middle school social worker.
Courtney, in a signed letter of apology on school stationery dated May 26, admitted he made the gesture to Knight at the end of that meeting. Knight provided the American Journal with a copy of the letter, addressed to her son.
“I want to apologize for extending my middle finger at you after our meeting on May 23,” Courtney wrote. “There is no excuse for the way I behaved that day. I am very sorry for any hurt feelings or upset that I caused you. I have enjoyed our meetings and past work together.”
Courtney also wrote that he hoped and would appreciate an opportunity to re-establish their connection.
Courtney did not respond to an emailed request for comment June 20, after the American Journal received the copy of the letter and after school let out for the summer.
Courtney was assigned as a team member to help Knight under an individual educational plan administered by the district’s special education program, Knight said. Josh has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder-obsessive compulsive disorder and he suffers anxiety attacks and migraines, his mother said.
She wants Courtney fired and called his apology letter “crappy.”
Knight, a Gorham High School graduate in 1992, said Josh won’t be returning to the middle school for the eighth grade. The school year ended June 16 and he didn’t attend the final three days, she said.
“‘You can’t send me back to prison,'” she said her son told her. “He refuses to go back.”
Knight said her son has been bullied for two years at the school, beginning in the sixth grade. He was once called a dog, she said, and a student barked in his face. Another time he ate lunch in a corridor after what she called “cool kids” wouldn’t let him eat at “their” table in the lunchroom.
“He comes home crying,” Knight said.
Josh doesn’t ride the school bus, driven to and from school by his mother. She said he has not been bullied on social media or by cell phone, but was bullied in school “every single day.”
She said she first reported the bullying early in the sixth grade. “Obviously, they’ve done nothing because nothing has changed,” she said.
Gorham schools have an anti-bullying policy.
“We train all staff in implementation of these policies annually,” Superintendent Heather Perry said in an email to the American Journal. “We have a common and clear definition of what bullying is across the district and we work hard to address any issues of bullying immediately.”
But, Perry said, bullying does exist in Gorham schools. “It exists in every school,” she said.
Knight posted about the incident with the social worker and her frustrations about her son being bullied on her Facebook page. She provided the American Journal with copies of an exchange of emails with School Committee Chairman Darryl Wright and Perry three months after a promised meeting with middle school administrators didn’t materialize.
The day following the incident with the social worker, Knight asked for an emergency meeting with Wright or other School Committee members. But Wright referred her to Perry, which is School Committee policy.
Perry arranged to meet with Knight and Middle School Principal Robert Riley on May 25.
“They told me that they were about moving forward,” Knight said this week. “I asked why she would suggest in her email that Josh isn’t being bullied. I also said something about Mr. Courtney yelling at Josh. For both things it was the same response … because of Josh’s disabilities those things aren’t actually happening and that it is his perception.”
Knight said there are teachers and other staff at the middle school who “genuinely care” about her son, but because no help has come from the top down in a way that matters, he will now be home-schooled.
“Josh is not safe at the middle school,” his mother said.
Robert Lowell can be reached at 854-2577 or firstname.lastname@example.org