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South Fayette parents express dissatisfaction with handling of bullying

| Tuesday, April 15, 2014, 11:18 p.m.
Heidi Murrin | Tribune-Review
Marie Sneel of South Fayette addresses the South Fayette Township School District Board during a meeting on Tuesday, April 15, 2014. 'Teaching your children begins at home,' she said in reference to bullying.

Several parents voiced their concern at a school board meeting on Tuesday over how administrators in the South Fayette School District handled a bullying incident that led to the victim being convicted of disorderly conduct.

“Our district policy purports to create a safe environment for students to report bullying, and we assume they're going to be dealt with in an appropriate manner, but it appears like that is a climate they don't have,” said Deb Whitewood of South Fayette, a longtime member of the parent-teacher association. “That's not the culture we want to have here at South Fayette.”

District Judge Maureen McGraw-Desmet convicted Christian Stanfield, 15, of South Fayette on March 19 of disorderly conduct for recording his classmates' taunts on his iPad on Feb. 11.

Desmet-McGraw, the South Fayette police department and the school's top administrators have been criticized for the way they handled the situation. A half-dozen residents addressed the board during the 90-minute meeting.

Michelle Winterhalter of South Fayette said the district can learn from the incident. “This can start a process where bullying can be handled better,” she said.

High school Principal Scott Milburn and other administrators listened to the seven-minute recording on Feb. 12 and forced Christian to delete it, according to a transcript from the hearing at McGraw-Desmet's office. Milburn called South Fayette police Lt. Robert Kurta that day, claiming he had a “wiretapping incident.”

Kurta told McGraw-Desmet his investigation relied on information from the principal, and he did not hear the recording.

District Superintendent Bille P. Rondinelli said she could not discuss what happened. Other administrators and board members declined comment.

“This is a school issue,” school board President Len Fornella said.

McGraw-Desmet could not be reached for comment.

Christian, diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactive disorder, comprehension delay disorder and an anxiety disorder, told the judge he recorded his bullies to show his mother the extent of the abuse, according to a court transcript.

Christian is appealing the judge's decision. He has a hearing scheduled in Allegheny County Common Pleas Court on April 29.

Adam Brandolph is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-391-0927 or abrandolph@tribweb.com.

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