SPRINGFIELD, New Jersey -- Nine-year-old Emma Spektor refuses to return to her fourth-grade class at the Thelma L. Sandmeier School in Springfield, New Jersey. She says she’s afraid the bullies will continue to target her.
“I just can’t handle it. I can’t believe I survived one year of it. But I can’t do it again,” Emma said. “Before third grade started, I loved school. I loved going there. I loved seeing my classmates. I loved doing my school work.”
But for reasons she still doesn’t understand, she says, a number of kids in her class began to bully her. She says they stole her school supplies, made fun of her freckles and birthmark, called her stupid and an idiot, and said she didn’t belong in their class.
“At first I told them to stop, but they wouldn’t listen to me. So I went to my teacher and she said that I was a smart girl and I could handle it myself," she told PIX11 News.
Emma did not tell her parents. She says she was afraid the bullying would get worse if those kids found out she had “tattled” on them. However, her mother could see something was wrong.
“Emma changed drastically,” Irina Spektor said.
After third grade ended, Emma told her parents the whole story. They hoped the bullying would stop when Emma started fourth grade with a new class. However, just before school began, they learned Emma’s entire class, the same students and teacher, were being kept together for fourth grade.
Her mother went to see Principal Michael Plias and told him about the alleged bullying.
“I would love for her to be transferred to one of the four fourth-grade classes at the school. Emma said, 'I don’t want to change schools, but I want to change classes to be away from my enemies and get back to learning and loving school,'" Spektor said.
Spektor brought Emma’s clinical psychological counselor to one of the meetings. He said she is “riddled with anxiety and sadness due to the excessive teasing and harassment in her classroom last year and now again this year.” He recommended she be placed in a new classroom as soon as possible.
Emma’s longtime pediatrician agreed, writing: “It is medically necessary to change Emma’s classroom assignment immediately.”
Principal Plias, after investigating, said no to the transfer request and suggested Emma work with the school guidance counselor and staff psychologist.
PIX11 contacted the principal. He referred them to Schools Superintendent Michael Davino for comment.
Davino said the school district has “zero tolerance for bullying” and a staff that is highly trained in anti-bullying measures. He says they “investigate every case and take appropriate action” and “no case is dismissed without serious consideration.”
Spektor says the principal told her Emma’s bullying accusations have not been confirmed.
“I can only go by the drastic changes that I see in my child,” she said.
With four other fourth-grade classes, she says, transferring Emma would be easy to do.
Emma went to class for the first two weeks of fourth grade but now refuses to go back. Her schoolwork is being sent home for her to complete.
Superintendent Davino says it is illegal to keep a child out of school.
Spektor says she’d hire an attorney, if necessary, but will not force her daughter to go back to the same students and teacher. She points to the example of 12-year-old Mallory Grossman, of New Jersey, who took her own life in June, after being relentlessly bullied.
"I would rather break the law than to say, 'if I had only listened,'" she said.