Phoebe Prince friend Payton Spinney victim of bullying at South Hadley High School, lawyer says
SOUTH HADLEY - The school administration here is under fire again for reportedly failing to serve and protect a vulnerable high school student.
The girl in question, Payton Spinney, was a friend of Phoebe Prince
, a South Hadley High School freshman who took her life last year after suffering what investigators have called a campaign of bullying by some fellow students. Six of Prince’s former classmates face felony charges in connection with her treatment.
Since Prince’s death, critics have charged that school officials failed to heed the warning signs leading up to Prince’s suicide or simply looked the other way. Although an investigation by the Northwestern District Attorney’s Office called into question the actions of some officials, it found nothing that amounted to criminal behavior.
This time it’s Spinney, a 16-year-old sophomore with Asperger’s Syndrome
, who has become the measuring stick for the administration’s alleged shortcomings. Because of her developmental disorder, Spinney has problems focusing in class and socializing with other students, according to Worcester attorney Abigail Williams. Williams, who represents Spinney and her mother, Jennifer Kalvinek
, said she took on their case after determining that the schools failed to implement an educational plan to suit Spinney’s needs.
A little more than a year after Prince hanged herself, the Spinney story has catapulted the South Hadley school system back into the spotlight. Darby O’Brien, a local resident who has led the charge against school officials, said he decided to make Spinney’s case public after it was brought to his attention by a student advocate employed by the state
. Kalvinek has since spoken to the media, including The Boston Globe, about her daughter’s situation. She could not be reached for comment Monday, however.
According to O’Brien, Spinney entered South Hadley High School two years ago after she and her mother moved to town from Ware. The family, which had fled a bad domestic situation, lives in a South Hadley shelter. Although Spinney had been an A student in Ware, her academic life rapidly deteriorated at South Hadley High School, O’Brien said.
Both O’Brien and Williams declined to name the advocate who contacted O’Brien about the case, saying her job could be at risk.
Like Prince, Spinney has been the target of bullies at South Hadley High School, enduring taunts and having food tossed at her, according to Williams. The harsh treatment even extends to adults, she said.
She said a survey given to all 10th-grade students by a private company indicated that Spinney was at some risk. She said the administration was lax in dealing with the situation.
Last Friday, the bullying came to a head when Spinney, in tears, threatened to punch one of her tormentors in the face, according to Williams. For that, she was called into the principal’s office and told she would be sent home.
Although the school telephoned her mother to pick her up, Spinney decided to walk home. Kalvinek found her daughter walking the streets close to the place where Prince made her final walk home from the high school last year. Spinney cannot return to school until she and her mother meet with Smith, Williams said.