An article about a student who was wrongly accused of cyberbullying a female student incorrectly reported that the San Lorenzo Unified School District administration met with the female student's family on May 6. District administration actually met with the male student's family.
By Ashly McGlone
SAN LORENZO -- A freshman attending an anti-bullying assembly at Arroyo High School last week was wrongly accused by the principal of being a cyberbully in front of more than 400 peers.
Principal Larry Smith led a discussion with the freshman class May 3 on the perils of cyberbullying after they finished watching a movie in the cafeteria.
According to Smith and student accounts, Smith pointed a student out and said the student had circulated an inappropriate photo of a female peer, a claim the student immediately disputed. The female peer in the image, also present at the assembly, was not named or pointed out, Smith said.
"The student was saying he didn't do it, but then the principal kept saying he did," said freshman Kenneth Lee. "The principal said he posted an inappropriate picture about someone, but he deleted the picture knowing he did something wrong."
Smith, in his seventh year as principal of Arroyo High School, later acknowledged his judgment and factual error. He said the student had received the image on a social media site but was not the student who sent it. He declined to give specifics about the incident, but said school administration had handled the matter before the assembly.
Smith was out of the office all week and will return Monday, he said. He and district officials declined to say whether he had been disciplined.
"I'm very sickened by the whole thing," Smith said. "He didn't do anything wrong. He was not involved in cyberbullying. ... I was trying to give an example and I made a mistake by naming a name."
After the initial assembly, Smith met with the families of both the accused student and the student in the image.
"I told them I would do whatever it would take to make it right," he said.
That meant assembling the freshman class a second time on the same day before the end of the school day to apologize in a public forum.
Lee said that while the accusation made the student uncomfortable, "at least he (the principal) apologized knowing he did something wrong."
Smith declined to say whether the female student still attended Arroyo High or had transferred after the assembly.
"The student and the family and I met and we discussed the possibilities," he said.
Some freshmen reported the incident to their teachers, and at least one teacher brought it to the attention of district officials and the school board. The Arroyo teacher urged them to "to investigate this offense and to take action for his astounding lack of discretion" and likened Smith's actions to bullying.
"Mr. Smith's behavior not only put two students' reputations at stake for years to come (they are only freshmen), but it conceivably may have already caused these young people psychological damage," the teacher wrote in an email. "How can students possibly feel safe sharing any information in confidence with an administrator, their principal no less, who will then betray them by sharing it publicly with hundreds of their peers?"
San Lorenzo Unified Superintendent Dennis Byas said he became aware of the incident Sunday night and that administration met with the male student's family Monday. Byas said the principal's attempt to give an example of bullying "went a little too far."
"You shouldn't give out any student's name, whether correct or not. ... Either way, that is an error," he said. "I think that he made a mistake and he tried to correct the situation as quickly as possible, but there are times that, sometimes the damage is done and when you try to correct the situation, you can only do so much."
Parent Claudia Picos, whose freshman daughter attends Arroyo, said the principal was wrong to handle the situation publicly.
"I think the principal can talk to him and the parents at the office. I don't think he should expose it to the other kids," she said.
Byas said he wants the community to know the actions won't be repeated.
"Our role is to protect every student in the district. That student is a very good student, so we all apologized about that particular situation and that won't happen again," he said.
District school board President Norman Fobert said: "I can assure you that we take every matter seriously and we are sure that every matter is properly investigated because we are talking about a person's livelihood as well as his children. ... We have complete confidence in the process and our administrators."
Asked if any counseling would be offered to the students involved, Fobert said, "As with any incident, any incident that involves children and the effects of bullying by anyone, of course our prime objective in the school district is to have a safe learning environment, and that is always the prime objective so we take any steps necessary to ensure that."
Smith said he had hoped students would take from the assembly an understanding "that any student in this day and age can receive information via the Internet, via phone and to do the responsible thing and discard it and share it with administration."
"There is a lot of stuff being passed around via text messages, Instagram, Facebook ... It is a very difficult time we live in when everything that happens can get posted," Smith said.
Ashly McGlone covers San Leandro, San Lorenzo and the Washington Township Health Care District. Contact her at 510-293-2463. Follow her at Twitter.com/AshlyReports.