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Parents and community leaders protest alleged bullying incident at Fresh Meadows school

Fresh Meadows bullying incident
Parents and community leaders protest an alleged bullying incident outside of J.H.S. 216 in Fresh Meadows on Monday, June 27. (Photo by Adrian Childress)

Parents of students at J.H.S. 216 in Fresh Meadows rallied outside of the school on Monday, June 27, demanding a thorough investigation for 11-year-old Jialin Emma Chen, a sixth grader who was allegedly assaulted and harassed by four boys in an alleged bullying incident that occurred on the school playground earlier this month.

Chanting “Where’s the principal!” and “Justice for Emma!” parents stood in front of the school entrance at 64-20 176th St. calling on the principal to address the issue and reports of students who have been physically bullied by other students at the school.

Fresh Meadows bullying incident
Photo by Adrian Childress

Parents and community leaders say that authorities have failed to take quick and appropriate steps to address the alleged incidents, following Chen’s case that they say was neglected and not fairly treated by the school until recently.

“We are asking for answers and a future plan to ensure that children are safe in the school, and how they’re treating our kids when they’re hurt and sick, not offering any medical attention and notifying parents right away,” said Yi “Andy” Chen, a community leader who organized the rally.

Fresh Meadows bullying incident
Community leaders Yi “Andy” Chen (far left) and Clifford Temprosa (right) call on the principal of J.H.S. 216 to come outside and address parents on an alleged bullying incident involving sixth grader Jialin Emma Chen. (Photo by Adrian Childress)

On June 16, Chen was playing volleyball with her friends in the school courtyard. When the volleyball rolled to a group of boys who were hanging out in another section, Chen tried to get the ball back, but the boys kicked around the ball and refused to give it back, according to Chen’s mother, Winnie, who filed a report.

In the report, one of the boys allegedly shoved Chen and she fell to the ground. Another boy approached from behind and allegedly placed his arm around Chen’s neck in a chokehold, forcing her down to the ground. Afterward, two other boys allegedly kicked and punched Chen.

Chen came to the U.S. three years ago from China and English is not her native language.

“When she was in shock and after being beaten, she was not offered/taken to the nurse’s office and no school staff checked on her physical and mental wellbeing,” Winnie wrote in her letter to the Community Education Council (CEC) 26. “No adults intervened when four boys ganged up and beat a girl who was lying on the ground unable to protect or even stand up.”

According to Winnie, her daughter suffered significant swelling, a bump on her neck, and bruises on her forearms, elbows, abdominal area and legs. She was taken to the pediatrician’s office to make sure there weren’t any internal injuries.

Fresh Meadows bullying incident
(Photo courtesy of Winnie)

“Emma and I are still in shock as to how the school would let such a horrific assault happen under their watch. Even with so many witnesses, the school has chosen to believe the bullies/attackers and not the victim,” Winnie said. “All that has transpired after the assault was just as traumatizing as the incident to Emma and I. It feels like the school is trying to silence us and write us off.” 

According to Winnie, the school’s assistant principal and dean “grossly neglected their duties and responsibilities,” as they were notified about the incident by other students. Furthermore, Winnie said the school did not notify her via email or phone call about the incident.

Students who witnessed the alleged assault on the playground wrote notes to the assistant principal and dean that were sent to the principal, Winnie said.

Although the assistant principal told her a thorough investigation was conducted, Winnie said the school report cited incorrect descriptions of the incident.

According to Winnie, the dean told her that they talked to some of the boys’ parents, and she never received a detailed solution about the kids’ future safety in the school.

Additionally, she was asked whether she would consider transferring Emma to another school. According to Winnie, it seemed as though the school was blaming her daughter for the incident, and not the boys.

“I do not agree with his opinion. Why does the victim need to transfer to another school?” Winnie told QNS. “Emma likes her teachers and friends there. I’ve heard from other sources about two to three bullying incidents happening at the school. Only the victims got transferred to other schools, and that’s not right.”

When asked whether she would send her daughter back to school in September, Winnie said she will consult with Emma’s psychologist and will speak with Emma about it as well.

When the incident was reported to CEC 26, President Albert Suhu said the council immediately referred the parent [Winnie] to District 26 Superintendent Danielle Giunta’s office for assistance, citing “for reasons of privacy and to ensure the integrity of the investigation, updates will be provided by the superintendent’s office.”

After reaching out to CEC 26, Winnie said she received the first phone call from the principal on June 23 to check on Chen, asking if she could return to school.

Winnie says the principal did contact her regarding another boy who was involved in the incident and alleged harassment that occurred on a playground outside of the school on June 20.

A parent of one of the boys who is accused of bullying Emma told QNS that her son wasn’t involved in the incident and that the school notified her saying the investigation has been closed.

The parent referred QNS to contact the school for further information. QNS made several attempts to contact the school and the superintendent’s office regarding updates on the investigation but was unsuccessful.

On June 28, Winnie received another phone call from the principal saying the case was closed and that she will receive documentation via postal mail. One day later, she was told that the case was not completely closed.

Organizers at the rally denounced the school’s handling of the situation.

Elizabeth Gomez, a mother of two daughters ages 2 and 5, said she was upset when she heard about the incident. According to Gomez, she had moved from Maspeth to Fresh Meadows just so her daughters could attend the blue ribbon school.

“It affects me because my children will be going there when they’re ready for junior high school,” Gomez said. “It’s also the fact that no one did anything — it took them 10 days to acknowledge it, and when they did, they told Emma to leave the school instead of the kids. They should be punished and not be allowed to come to the school.”

Fresh Meadows bullying incident
Photo by Adrian Childress

Clifford Temprosa, a community activist who helped to organize the rally, cited the incident as racist and xenophobic.

“It was a hate crime. Just the fact that it had to be her who was targeted and the way that they assaulted her, it wasn’t a typical incident of bullying; there was an intent to it,” Temprosa said. “It’s not just pushing a kid down in the park; it’s strangling and choking a sixth grader who [emigrated] from China, and she couldn’t do anything about it.”

Temprosa said he believes the school isn’t investigating the matter as a priority.

“So many of the students who were coming out of the school didn’t know the incident occurred. That for a lot of us says it’s not being prioritized,” Temprosa said. “We just want results and accountability to be heard and the fact that the principal didn’t want to come out and acknowledge anything, that was a blow to the parents.”

Temprosa said that the activists would like to meet with the principal and are planning to send a letter and petition to the Board of Education (BOE) regarding the investigation.

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