GOUVERNEUR — The attack of a 10-year-old black girl by two similar aged white girls on a school bus earlier this month was prolonged and the damage is irreversible, police and school officials said Tuesday.
“It wasn’t a quick incident,” Village Police Sgt. Darren J. Fairbanks said Tuesday. “It was a period of time, over the course of approximately 20 minutes.”
Based upon view surveillance video from the bus, police announced three arrests Monday in connection with the Sept. 10 incident.
But that 20 minutes has led to what Gouverneur Central Superintendent Lauren F. French said was a cause of pain that can’t be undone.
“I think what bothers me the most is I can’t undo it,” Mrs. French said. “If somebody falls and breaks an arm, we can fix it. An arm mends and there’s no history, so to speak, of it. I can’t undo what has happened to this child and that is terribly, terribly, terribly, painful.”
A Monday news release from Chief Laurina M. Greenhill said the alleged victim was left with a black eye, bruises and missing hair after her two classmates beat her up on a school bus.
The students accused of the assault, ages 10 and 11, and a bus monitor who stood by idly as the attack unfolded, have been charged. The 11-year-old is facing felony hate crime charges, because of racially motivated language used during the incident, police said.
Sgt. Fairbanks said, on the bus in question, there was only the driver and the monitor, Tiffany N. Spicer, 28, of 183 River Road, Edwards, who is employed by First Student, acting as adult supervisors.
Mrs. French said in her 35 years of working in the field of education, this was the worst encounter between students she has been faced with, and one of a kind at the school.
“This is disheartening, and why I say that is because you get into education because you believe in the future and you believe in helping scholars through opportunities and through aspirations and through support and tapping into their hidden talents and strengths and saying, ‘you can do this,’” Mrs. French said. “And this kind of interaction is contrary and just so foreign to what we believe in.”
Additionally, she said this kind of allegation impacts the school district as a whole and brings into question the trust families have in the school.
“People entrust this school district and they entrust me, every single day, with keeping just under 1,600 students safe — emotionally safe, physically safe — they entrust me to have them fed, to meet their needs and, so because this cannot be undone, it also questions a level of trust,” she said.
What she said the school can do, and is doing, is making this a teachable moment.
There was a training session for staff Tuesday and she said Middle School Principal Jessica Sullivan is orchestrating training and assemblies for students and staff so that “conversations can be held, so that students can share their feelings, so that counselors can talk to students,” with the intent that the proper vocabulary be used to improve communication in their community.
“Things are in the process of moving forward to definitely make this a teachable moment and an opportunity to stress what, we feel, is important for all students in terms of respect and human dignity,” Mrs. French said.
Sgt. Fairbanks declined to say what led to the conclusion of the alleged assault, saying the investigation was ongoing. He said this is the first time that he knew about these two juveniles being involved in an incident of this nature.
The charged children and their parents have been referred to St. Lawrence County Probation for further action.
The two juveniles have each been charged with a count of misdemeanor second-degree aggravated harassment. The 11-year-old child is additionally charged with felony third-degree assault as a hate crime.
Sgt. Fairbanks said a third-degree assault on its own is a misdemeanor, but adding a hate crime elevates that to a felony.
“So the 11-year-old has been charged with that felony due to the fact that the actions she engaged in met that criteria,” he said.
The FBI defines a hate crime as a “criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity.”
Gouverneur, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, has a population of about 7,000. According to estimated data from 2018, the Census Bureau reports 89.2 percent of residents are white, while 6.7 percent of residents are black or African American and 5 percent of residents are Hispanic or Latino.
Chief Greenhill said the attackers used racially motivated language on the bus, and during the assault punched the victim in the right eye, leaving it blackened, and pulled her hair. The victim also suffered a bruised knee after she fell backward into the school bus seat as the other students pulled her hair.
Throughout the incident, Ms. Spicer, who, as a bus monitor, had a responsibility for the safety of the students on the bus, but while witnessing the incident, made no effort to stop and/or prevent the incident from taking place, the chief said in her release.
Ms. Spicer is charged with three counts of misdemeanor endangering the welfare of a child. She was issued tickets returnable to Town Court.
“I would say there’s a consequence to anybody’s actions, no matter their age or their race or their ethnic background,” Sgt. Fairbanks said. “There’s always a consequence for your actions.”