By MADDY VITALEBrianna Thomas created a petition on Change.org to give former and current students of the Ocean City school district a forum to air their grievances, concerns and allegations. She did so, she said, to give them an avenue to tell of alleged incidents at the hands of school faculty or fellow students.Thomas, who dropped out of Ocean City High School during the 2011-12 school year, said in an interview with OCNJDaily.com she was “outed” for being a lesbian, which led to bullying during her time in the district.“I like to tell people what I have been through and my experiences, because it may help someone else,” said Thomas, 24, formerly of Ocean City who now lives in Ventnor.Her petition, posted on April 22 on social media, contained a flurry of posts alleging sexual assault, inappropriate student-teacher relationships, bullying, harassment, acts that led to suicide, discrimination and unfair treatment by faculty.No one, other than Thomas, attaches a name to the alleged incidents. She explained that after former students reached out to her, they worked together to create the petition.She said the people who posted wanted to keep their anonymity for personal reasons because some may want to go to authorities, others want to remain unnamed.“Keeping their anonymity is important,” she said.The petition called on the Cape May County Prosecutor’s Office, the State Police and the FBI to look into the allegations outlined in a 6,000-plus word petition with numerous stories by the anonymous posters.On Wednesday night during the Ocean City Board of Education meeting, Thomas read a statement saying, in part, that the district failed its students and urged school officials to do more to help the students.“I have been here before, and I walked away from that call for action trusting that the new plans of the school board would protect students and encourage stricter enforcement of policies,” Thomas said. “I was 19 at that time. I am nearly 25 now. Following the school board meeting in 2015, Dr. (Kathleen) Taylor stated in an email that my experience was one she would never want a student to have.”She said that while she has not come before the board to speak of her issues for six years, she felt compelled to based on allegations of more recent claims.“I am once again before you, with some information that is eerily similar to what I experienced in this school district, and some information that disgusts me and saddens me on an entirely new level,” Thomas said. “These students deserve better.”Later in the meeting, School Board President Joseph Clark said on behalf of the board that the first thing the board did in response to the petition was contact the authorities.“We have read the petition posted on Change.org calling for law enforcement agencies to investigate the allegations in the petition,” Clark said. “We hear you and commend you for exercising your right to free speech and for the courage to petition to have the allegations investigated further.”He noted that the first action taken by the school administration and the board was to contact the Ocean City Police Department regarding the petition.“We have and will continue to fully cooperate and provide access to the police department and or the County Prosecutor’s Office for any impending investigation,” he said.Clark emphasized that while the district can’t change the past, it is “committed to taking additional steps to build upon the programs, trainings, support and intervention services, along with providing the necessary resources, which we have put in place over the past decade to ensure enduring change.”Clark noted that back in 2011, the district brought in professionals to educate the staff about teacher-student relationships, discrimination, boundary limits for staff and harassment.And through the years, partnerships with organizations such as the Ocean City Education Foundation have led to wellness programs and other initiatives to help students.The Ocean City Board of Education and members of the public listen to Brianna Thomas.Meanwhile, Cape May County Prosecutor’s Office Capt. Mike Emmer said that the Prosecutor’s Office is aware of the petition.“We have seen it and we are reviewing the information that is contained in it,” he noted Wednesday. “We request that anyone who has any information on any crimes committed to please contact the Special Victims Unit of the Cape May County Prosecutor’s Office at 609-465-1135.”Days before the Board of Education meeting, and a day after the petition was posted, school officials responded to the petition with a statement.“The Ocean City School District first became aware of the allegations of unsafe and unjust practices at Ocean City High School published in the change.org petition when that page was posted on April 22,” the statement reads. “The District immediately reached out to the Ocean City Police Department to request their review of the allegations and to offer our cooperation in any manner that was necessary.”The statement further states that “the Ocean City Police Department and the Cape May County Prosecutor’s Office are in the process of reviewing the allegations.”“The physical safety and mental well-being of our students have always been among the Ocean City School district’s foremost concerns. The district has consistently maintained and enforced all anti-harassment, intimidation and bullying policies required by the Department of Education, as well as all reporting obligations for any student who is suspected to have been abused, neglected and/or missing.”The statement continues, “Any alleged incidents of harassment, intimidation and bullying are taken seriously and investigated consistent with the New Jersey Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act.”In 2015, the district formed an ad-hoc committee on Youth Mental Health to support student wellness in all the schools.Among the more recent steps taken were renovations and transformation of classrooms in the High School and Intermediate School into wellness centers, school officials said.“Ocean City School District takes seriously its responsibility to create a supportive school community,” the statement concluded. “We are committed to fostering a culture that supports the whole student and ensures each student’s safety, security and mental and physical health.”Ocean City High School Brianna Thomas, of Ventnor, addresses the Board of Education about a petition she started alleging wrongdoing in the school district. (Photos courtesy of Martin Fiedler, Just Right TV Productions)
The Batesville Bulldogs JV Football Team blanked The Milan Indians 28-0 to improve to 2-0 for the season.Batesville Freshman football team won 14-0 over South Decatur.Eric Harmeyer had 2 TD passes to Jack Kellerman for both scores. The first one was from 60 yards out with Garren Williamson catching the 2 point conversion. The 2nd TD was from 35 yards out (2pt conversion was no good.)Defensively, the Bulldogs were led by numerous Bulldogs. Logan Mears and Dennis Sweezey led the team in tackles while Christian Prickel forced a fumble. Josh Maple also played well at defensive tackle.The Bulldogs will next be in action next Thursday, 9/11 when they host the Lawrenceburg Tigers.Courtesy of Bulldogs Coaches Terry Nobbe and Eric Feller.