Please help Nicholas Reznik return to school, sign petition to object excessive punishment
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Summary: On February 16th Nicholas posted a bad joke into a private chat, a chat of 9 people who often posted fairly extreme jokes and other very confidential subject matter. The post was leaked to a teacher. The bad joke was an image of another classmate posting a message about an impending school shooting. When Nicholas learned the post was leaked, he proactively told an assistant principal that it was a fake. He wrote a letter of apology to the student he made fun of. Nicholas had no prior disciplinary school infractions of any kind. Police was called and he was charged with misdemeanors of criminal threatening and terrorizing. He was suspended from school and while on suspension, referred for an expulsion hearing that is tentatively planned for April 11th. If expelled, Nicholas will not be able to go to college (he was provisionally accepted to 4 colleges of his choice), this is in addition to losing merit scholarships (one college offered him 22K annually for 4 years).
The Full Story:
If I were to write an essay about what happened I would probably title it “How a Bad Joke Can Destroy a Teenager’s Life.” Regretfully, from a bad joke the events that took place at MDI High School, where our eldest son Nicholas is a senior, turned into something close to a life and death struggle for our family.
On February 16th, we were contacted by Mr Braun, MDIHS assistant principal, who told us that Nicholas posted a threatening message in another student’s name and we better come quick because the police were already called and were on their way.
Nicholas is the eldest of our three boys and while we expected to have troubles from the other two, Nicholas had always been a “good kid.” He literally never had a single detention throughout his time in high school and the middle school. He was on the cross country running and track teams throughout his time at MDI High School. He took his studies very seriously and spent hours autonomously studying at home, planning his future, hoping to get into a “good college.” He did bring home very good grades.
Most importantly, he has been a kind kid. He would be the one to look for a justification for someone who was criticized in our family’s day to day interactions.
After the tragic Florida shooting of February 14th, like most other students, he discussed the events with his private group of friends using a small group chat function of the Facebook. This Facebook chat consisted of him and eight of his classmates. As we confirmed later, the group was genuinely private, posting messages that had to do with their opinions on drug use, illegal activities on school grounds and the like, usually with a humorous undertone. In one message that Nicholas later showed us, one of the participants is asking what they thought of “doing acid”, another replies that he would not do it if it tastes bad. This is the reality of today’s life in high school.
It is within this group chat that the fatal mistake occurred. Nicholas created a fake message with an intention of making fun of the school shooting and one of his classmates at the same time. The message appeared as a photograph of a Facebook post from that classmate. In the message the classmate was saying he will come to the school and shoot everyone during a locker break. One of his eight friends showed the message to the teacher.
We later learned that this friend had a grudge against Nicholas, but never thought things would go nearly as far as they did. He never thought of it as a big deal and has been trying to help Nicholas since the event.
As soon as the teacher was notified, other kids notified Nicholas of what was going on. Nicholas then approached Mr Braun and told him that he posted a fake threatening message and wants to be sure they know this was a fake. Mr Braun did not appeared distressed, but told Nicholas he had not heard anything about this, but if he hears something he will get back to Nicholas.
After this the teacher who was shown the message showed it to Mr Braun and Mr Haney—the school principal.
When I arrived to the school the police were gathering evidence and showed me the message Nicholas posted. Nicholas was sequestered in a separate room. My wife and I were beside ourselves with disappointment and anger that Nicholas would do something like this. We spent the rest of the evening talking to Nicholas about this extreme insensitivity, carelessness and poor judgement. It was hard to see that our kiddo would be making fun of such an event and of a classmate in this extreme way.
Nicholas did not try to fight back. He understood that he was wrong. He also volunteered to write a letter of apology to the boy they were making fun of. He wrote that letter the same day.
At the school, he was charged with two misdemeanors, criminal threatening and terrorizing, and we now have a court date to address that. Right after the police charged Nicholas with crime, officer Tim offered to take me to Mr Haney and Mr Braun so I could learn of school related consequences.
Mr Braun told me that Nicholas is suspended from school, and we would learn of the duration of the suspension later. On the other hand, said Mr Braun, I do not believe the this will go to an expulsion hearing. He stated this without me specifically asking about this. Mr Haney was there and remained quiet in a gesture of an implied consent. Officer Tim was also present.
After the school vacation ended, Mr Haney notified us that Nicholas was in an out-of-school suspension for two weeks and that, to our surprise, an expulsion was a “reasonable possibility.” This was followed by an email that Nicholas was being referred for an expulsion hearing.
During my subsequent telephone conversation with Mr Haney I tried to find out how he came up with this decision. While he said it was a collaborative decision between the three of them (Mr Braun, Dr Gousse—the school superintendent and himself) I sensed that Dr Gousse was the decisive factor. Dr Gousse wanted Nicholas expelled.
We were surprised at this response from Dr Gousse, who only a few months ago was defending himself after accepting tickets to the Patriots’ game from a health insurance vendor. He was caught lying about this and threatening the persons that reported him and in the subsequent article he apologized for his “error in judgement” and thanked the board members for their “patience, understanding and support.” (See MDIslander articles of October 4th and October 19th, 2017).
What does this punishment mean for Nicholas, who worked very hard throughout his time in school and now was getting college acceptance letters? He was accepted to four colleges of his choice with one of them offering 22K of annual merit based scholarships for four years.
Not only the merit based scholarships are now in question—which translates into many thousands of dollars to be repaid over many years—but his acceptance to any college will be withdrawn if he is expelled.
This was out of proportion and defying all measure. We believe that Dr Gousse is simply trying to make an example of Nicholas.
It is at this point that things became very hard for all of us. My wife an I now had to deal with our 17 year old who was saying how if he killed himself it would prove to the three of them that they went too far. We had to take pains to convey in the best way he could that his life is worth a lot more than convincing those three, who are motivated by their career advancement and would not really care about him anyway.
I told Nicholas of my personal experience that was similar, yet very different. I also got into trouble when I was seventeen and there was a teacher who could have destroyed me, but he chose not to. Not because he knew me particularly well, he just chose to give a kid a break.
This was one of my personal highlights in education, experiencing a person who would be so spontaneously kind and generous, with nothing to gain from it and possibly something to lose. I remember it now more than thirty years after it occurred.
We also tried to understand why Nicholas would make fun of such a matter. He told us that while there was genuine pain and a wish to change things among some of the students, there was also a lot of hypocrisy and falsehood, different people on different sides trying to jump on the bandwagon that they themselves did not believe in. The post was his way of dealing with those conflicting feelings.
In the mean time, Dr Gousse is bringing an attorney from a Portland based firm that specializes in representing schools against students. They want to see Nicholas bleed. While they are trying to paint a picture of this being a usual school shooting threat, there are important details that make it clear this was something very different, bad, but not nearly as bad as they are trying to portray.
I would like to summarize the points that make this case different.
- The message was posted into a private chat and as a joke, it was never intended to provoke terror, never intended to reach the audience outside of his eight friends.
- Nicholas notified the assistant principal before the assistant principal knew about this himself, thus the subsequent “investigation” was easy to do as they already knew exactly what happened.
- The principal and the assistant principal themselves didn’t plan to expel Nicholas till they discussed this with Dr Gousse, they could see that an expulsion would be excessive.
- Nicholas has never been a subject of an even minor disciplinary action by the school ever before. He recognized his mistake immediately and wrote a letter of apology.
- The message that Nicholas created was done using “inspect element” function of the web. It is important to see that the classmate’s account was never hacked, as some teachers were originally lead to believe. A fake image was created and photographed in a process that is similar to using photoshop.
- Finally, it is important to consider the devastating consequences that an expulsion implies for a graduating senior.
An expulsion is meant for keeping the school safe but there isn’t and never was a danger to anyone in school, not in this case.
We have hired an attorney to help us deal with the specialized attorney from Portland representing Dr Gousse. Nicholas has been out of school now for six weeks as the hearing is being postponed “by mutual agreement” to obtain psychological evaluations and the like.
The famous saying “where there is justice there is peace” comes to mind here. We do not believe that making an example of a student who got into trouble for the first time will serve justice. The response has been out of proportion and beyond any measure of justice. This will not foster peace. While some students might be intimidated by this iron fist style of ruling, others will surely try to test the boundaries. In the end, we hope that the justice will be served.
We welcome contact from anyone who has suggestions on how we can help our son at firstname.lastname@example.org
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