The cruel taunts of some sixth grade girls at the Hommocks about Mamaroneck Avenue School (MAS) have one mother – and a raft of on-line commentators – debating whether to blame bigotry, poor parenting, Larchmont elitism, policies toward immigrants or just, plain human nature. Comments also varied widely on how to react: Should the school get involved? The community? Parents? Or should kids learn to work out their problems among themselves?
The incident was first aired on September 16 via the local blog LyndaLarch10538. A reader identified only as “Katherine” recounted how her daughter, a Mamaroneck Avenue School graduate, had been teased by several Chatsworth Elementary School graduates for coming from “the ghetto school with all the poor dirty Mexicans.”
MAS is one of four neighborhood elementary schools feeding into the Hommocks Middle School. MAS students live in Mamaroneck Village or the unincorporated area of Mamaroneck Town; almost all Chatsworth students live in Larchmont Village and almost all Murray Avenue School students live in the unincorporated area of Mamaroneck Town. Central School pulls from all three municipalities. The schools vary in size and in their demographics, as seen in data collected by the New York State Department of Education in 2007-2008.
|Eligible for Free or Reduced Price Lunch||8%||2%||0%||28%||5%|
|Black or African American||5%||2%||1%||5%||3%|
|Hispanic or Latino||17%||7%||2%||45%||15%|
|Number of Students||N=477||N=620||N=708||N=522||N=1115|
The Blog Debate
After her daughter’s experience, the MAS mother wrote on LyndaLarch10538: “This is disgraceful in a community that prides itself in its liberalism,” and asked for comments. The mother also contacted the Larchmont Gazette this month and agreed to discuss the posting, while retaining her anonymity. “A few of those girls are really, really mean – and will only get meaner,” she explained.
Katherine certainly got the discussion she requested: 90 comments as of October 14. According to “LyndaLarch,” only one other posting has received as many responses since she began blogging in 2006.
Katherine got a lot of support – for her position and for Mamaroneck Avenue School. Forty-four of the posts expressed similar outrage and/or blamed Chatsworth or Larchmont adults for tolerating or even fostering racism or elitism.
“Kids hear these sorts of things from their parents and other adults. It’s racist, elitist and I am embarrassed to live in a community with people who teach their children such things,” wrote one anonymous poster.
Others wrote specifically of their love for MAS and its strengths. “Both of my children went to MAS and perhaps you are actually JEALOUS that yours did not! They have been (and are currently) in the advance placement classes and it is due to the education they received at MAS,” posted “Anon 7:40 AM.” Nancy Wasserman, widow of pediatrician Dr. Eugene Wasserman, wrote about how her attachment to the school has led her to remain in the community.
However, 19 posts disagreed – or took offense – at Katherine’s comments. Some suggested she was overreacting or unfairly stereotyping Chatsworth students or parents. “This is reality,” posted “Anon 2:20. “Grow thicker skin,” recommended Anon 9:41. “A Proud Chatsworth Parent Who Doesn’t Like the Broad Brush That is Being Painted on Me” accused Katherine of “playing the MAS vs Chatsworth card” and the “race card.”
A small minority blamed the incident on frustration with special programs for Hispanics and on the burden of illegal immigrants. “A Fed up Democrat” pointed to MAS having “a pre K, while no other elementary school in the district has one” and to the “1/2 hour welcome from the Hommocks principal” at back to school night. “Where was my welcome?”
Others pushed back. “The idea that any posters here would tolerate this kind of behavior in a civil society is a testimony enough to the fact that there is a problem,” wrote Jonathan Sacks.
“There is a lot of hatred for Hispanics,” Katherine told the Gazette. ” I was surprised at some of the attacks.” However she believes “a lot of it is economic – if these were wealthy Hispanics, A-Rod’s kids, it would be another thing. Larchmont moms would be in front of the school pretending their kids went there.”
Response from the Hommocks
Katherine and her daughter opted not to reveal names of the Chatsworth girls to authorities at the school, but they did speak with the principal, Dr. Seth Weitzman, after he learned of the incident and reached out through an intermediary. “He was very quick to act on it,” said the mother. The girl’s counselor is also involved.
When he was growing up, bullying was considered “a rite of passage,” said Dr. Weitzman. “Today we practice a ‘zero tolerance’ policy toward bullying, recognizing its impact on children and school climate.”
“The way we handle all sorts of bullying situations is to talk to all of the children and then to their parents,” explained the principal. In “98% of cases, the parents are supportive.” He said he understood the reluctance to name names, but added, “We can only do so much if we don’t know who [the bullies] are.”
Asked about the racist nature of the taunts, Dr. Weitzman said “it is certainly not common, but from time-to time we learn about children hurling all sorts of epithets – religious, ethnic and racial. I think they’re influenced by what they see in the media and they are feeling their oats.” He added, “There is no group that hasn’t been the victim – and no group that hasn’t been the perpetrator.”
In addition to addressing specific incidents, the Hommocks curriculum includes “pro-social character-building.” Beginning last year, the guidance counselors have been teaching a 12-class program.
Asked about the social mix at the Hommocks, Dr. Weitzman said by Thanksgiving of their first year, students tend to have made new friends who attended elementary schools other than their own. But he acknowledged a tendency for students to self-segregate in the cafeteria by race. “The adults do too,” he said. “As adults we should also be thinking about how we mix in the community – we can’t expect the children to be much better than the adults.”