Difficult questions

FI-EditorialSo much is still publicly unknown about the circumstances that led to 15-year-old Bart Palosz, a Greenwich High School sophomore, taking his own life after the first day of school.

His family and other students have said he was the victim of relentless bullying at Western Middle School and then at GHS. And while people still mourn the loss of a young man, an investigation is ongoing as to what happened inside the schools and what role this had in Bart’s death. However, just after the investigation began, the district, citing the need for more objectivity, turned it over to the town attorney’s office to lead. This has caused some to question why and wonder what is the goal here.

While the town’s legal department is outside the school system, it also has a different objective than other town departments. The legal department is partly here to avoid the town being sued and, if necessary, strongly defend it in court. That’s not just something that can be overlooked because a civil suit against the district remains a real possibility.

If outside impartiality is needed, why not bring in investigators truly from outside the town? The school district has never been shy about bringing in consultants when needed. Why not outside investigators as well? This investigation could well find uncomfortable truths about what was allowed to happen beyond just this case and, in order for the district to prevent this from happening again, failures in the system must be confronted. Whoever is doing this investigation has to be able to shine light into some potentially dark corners without fear of consequences for the school district or the town.

Can the legal department do that?

It’s wrong to assume they can’t. No one is questioning the professionalism of those who have taken over this investigation. It’s unfair to simply assume what the process and results will be of an investigation. But at the same time, this decision means extra scrutiny. This investigation has to get it right, no matter the findings.

This not only has to be a thorough process, but a public one. If something like this can be prevented from happening again, then the public must know where the district failed Bart. If mistakes were made and issues ignored or brushed aside, then they can’t just be part of an internal review. So improvements can be made and parents can feel secure knowing their children in the district will feel safe and protected, there have to be public findings without concern about lawsuits or how best to defend the town.

What happened at Western Middle School and Greenwich High School? Did administrators look the other way? Did people react to these bullying incidents with the old “boys will be boys” excuse? What went wrong? If Bart’s classmates and family were so convinced that brutal bullying was happening, what did the schools know and what was done about it?

These are just some of the questions that must be answered. There are more. This is not something that will be done quickly, nor should it be. Superintendent of Schools William McKersie said this will be taken “very, very seriously” and he should be taken at his word. But there will be a lot of eyes on this investigation and for good reason.

There are big questions to be asked about the impact of bullying, and the way social media has made the bullying so many experienced in their youth into something far more damaging for this generation. The town will hear from experts of all stripes. But for the town to truly forward, there has to be a look backward.

Anyone outside the Palosz family who claims they know exactly what happened and why is fooling themselves. The family itself might not even know completely what led Bart to feel he had no hope. This is an investigation that could lead to some very uncomfortable truths, and the town has to be ready for that.

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