Upper Cape Tech administrators address bullying concerns

Mar 27, 2024

Upper Cape Cod Regional Vocational Technical School parents, including some from Wareham, voiced concerns at a March 14 School Committee meeting about bullying and discrimination they said their children have faced since enrolling.

Administrators have since denied many claims, but agreed there has been a rise in peer-on-peer bullying. 

After a February altercation between two Wareham students, a third student received a message on Snapchat from one of them stating, “It’s not gonna be a knife. … It’s gonna be a fun [sic] gun. I’m done.”

Both students involved were suspended, but after the message, Wareham parents Heather L’Homme and Jessica Roy looked to the school for action.

L’Homme said the school provided no safety plan for her child, who was involved in the altercation, and the way the situation was handled felt “invalidating.” 

“Just because somebody says they're only going to shoot one person doesn't mean that everybody else is safe,” she said.

Principal Joshua Greeley said while he cannot comment on specific situations, the school has safety plans that are instituted when appropriate. 

“We believe our students are 100% safe,” he said, emphasizing the presence of school resource officers and other safety measures.

Superintendent Roger Forget said the threat was “not credible” and since it occurred over social media and the school wasn’t mentioned, the school’s investigation was limited. However, both Wareham and Bourne police were informed and conducted investigations.

Since then, parents have used a Facebook group to discuss their grievances with bullying from both peers and administrators, leading some to speak at the March 14 meeting.

At the meeting, Roy claimed Vice Principal Timothy Lizotte intentionally targeted students with mental health issues and/or Individualized Educational Plans. She said her child received a three-day suspension for “insubordination” and when she asked for clarification Lizotte “laughed in my face.”

Forget said Roy’s claims against school administration are a complete “fabrication of the truth” and “grossly inaccurate.” 

A parent-led petition on Change.org called for Lizotte’s removal and received just under 180 signatures before it was removed.

“The children have been pushed to such extremes that they are withdrawing from school, falling into depression, attempting suicide, resorting to drug use and becoming victims of bullying,” read the petition.

Forget said a petition cannot remove an administrator and any attempt to do so would have to be done through a different process.

He said it's hard for the school to hear these allegations, adding how the experience of a few students does not represent the broader student body.

Greeley said the school works “tirelessly” to support its students and has increased its anti-bullying efforts following the pandemic. 

He highlighted the school’s counseling services, including a licensed mental health professional and support dog as well as the Anti-Bullying Committee, which was established in October.

The school also started anti-bullying programs, including “March Matters,” where the principal will send a newsletter highlighting students who have exemplified characteristics like empathy, respect or acceptance each week. 

Greeley said the school is always seeking alternatives to suspension when a situation arises. One alternative to in-school suspension is the Transitional Learning Center, where students can go to continue learning — even if they cannot be in the classroom. However, much of it is decided on a case by case basis. 

According to the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, the out-of-school suspension rate at Upper Cape Tech has decreased from 9.8% in 2022 to 7.4% in 2023. However, in-school suspensions rates have gone up from 3.1% in 2022 to 5.9% in 2023.

Greeley said staff provide students opportunities to learn from their mistakes and the value of taking accountability. 

The more engaging the lessons are, the more satisfied students are and the less likely situations resulting in discipline will arise, he said, adding that no one is perfect and the goal is to provide opportunities for growth and resilience.