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This is a letter from a mother of a new Neptune High School graduate that was distributed to the Neptune Board of Education at the public meeting on Wednesday, June 28th. The letter recounts how her child was scheduled to give a speech at the high school graduation ceremony on June 21st but was allegedly “silenced” because the content of the speech would reflect negatively on the district. According to the letter, the child was subjected to “rape, sexual assault, bullying, and harassment.” All identifying words and phrases have been redacted to protect the anonymity of the graduate. The mother did not send this letter to NJER.
I would like to provide a statement and clarification regarding the reasons why my [child] had not given her speech at graduation.
May I first say that [my child] could have easily submitted a false speech to principal [Arlene] Rogo but did not. [My child] had the courage and honesty to submit the speech containing [a personal] Neptune experience. The morning of graduation I received several phone calls/messages urging me to contact either Dr. Rogo, [ Student Assistance Counselor/Anti-Bullying Specialist Callie] Peters, or [Director of Counseling Juan] Beltran about her speech. I did and we agreed to meet at the high school after the morning rehearsal.
My [child] and I were met by the three mentioned before in a conference room to discuss the content of the speech. First I was asked if I had read [the] speech and I replied no, that I had not but was aware of the content. We had discussed the subject matter prior. They handed me a copy of [the] speech and asked me to read it. At that moment I did not. Instead I asked who was having a problem with the speech, what the problem was, and how could we fix it. Again I was asked to read the speech,
Mr. Beltran wanted to make sure I was aware of the content and I assured him I was aware of what has happened to my[child] and that [my child] is and has been in therapy because of the experience. Then he discussed how they felt the speech was negative from beginning to end, that they did not see any appropriate aspects, that it placed blame and therefore a bad reflection on Neptune. The conversation went back and forth and I said I will back my [child’s decision].
That’s when Dr. Rogo said that [my child] would not be speaking, that it would be too much of a risk. I said this situation was “f”ed up”and that it wasn’t right that they were robbing my [child] of this moment who had worked through so much and so hard. Despite all the bad, here she was and should be recognized.
More discussion followed and I suggested [my child] would rewrite a speech that they approved of and if it varied to cut the mic. It would be a compromise. They said that they would give us some time alone to discuss this new proposal and when we were ready to get them from the next room.
So, we discussed the situation and [my child] of course wanted to stand firm and I pleaded to not lose this moment after working so hard and as unfair as it all was to give the speech on another platform. We agreed, I went to get the others, and was met by superintendent Dr. [Tami R.] Crader in the doorway. We rejoined in the room and I said that [my child] would rewrite [the] speech to something they would approve of.
Dr. Crader simply said, without any compassion in her voice, that [my child] would not be speaking, that they could not allow it. So I turned to her and said, “you are going to rob my child of this moment in fear of shining a bad light on Neptune?” And she said, “that’s right!” So, my [child] told her to “f” off and that we were leaving and we got up and left.
Now with all of that happening we weren’t really sure what was going to happen at graduation, if they were going to ask [my child] to leave or sit with all the other students… Honestly, that wasn’t even the worst part. The thing that was the most disappointing, something that was so wrong, is that they didn’t even acknowledge my child, as if she didn’t exist.
Everyone involved should be ashamed of themselves. Here you have a child, who has endured something horrific and is working on how to deal with the events, to finally reach a point to be strong enough, brave enough to tell the story out loud for all to know and instead of being commended is being silenced.
As I said in the meeting, [my child] is not the only one this has happened to and is not alone. I finally read the speech the following day, when I had a moment to myself. I was expecting it to be so negative and full of blame as I was told. I did not find it that way, I thought it was beautiful. So please, when you read the speech or if you have already, reread it with an open mind and really listen to the true message. Rape, sexual assault, bullying, and harassment are tough subjects, ones that make people uncomfortable to think about and talk about but if you don’t use your voice you will never be heard.
Thank you for your time,