An anguished teenager has told of how she self-harms thanks to bullying at a New Jersey high school where a 14 year-old girl committed suicide after being bullied.
Danielle Ledesma, 17, poured her heart out in front of current and former students, parents and members of the Central Regional School district breaking down in front of the board on Thursday night while detailing her own experience.
The 17-year-old and her mother were among the hundreds who spoke to the systemic issues of bullying being seen in the region Danielle saying that self-harm was her ‘only escape.’
Tales of bullying, sexual assault and racism have been catapulted into the national spotlight in the wake of the devastating suicide of Adriana Kuch, 14.
They emerged as it was revealed disgraced ex-superintendent Triantafillos Parlapanides is still being paid his $190,000 salary, despite resigning after smearing Kuch.
‘You guys have done nothing, I’m trying so hard to just talk and try to get you to listen to me,’ a devastated Danielle said to the board members as she wiped away tears.
‘We are mourning the loss of a student, I’m angry and upset at every single one of you guys.
Danielle Ledesma, pictured speaking into the mic, told a meeting Thursday night that she’d been driven to self-harm by bullies at Central Regional School District in New Jersey, which recently saw a 14 year-old girl tormented into taking her own life
Danielle slammed school board members for what she said was their inaction, and told of her shock that bullying was still happening even after the dead of Adriana Kuch, 14
Adriana Kuch, 14, killed herself days after she was seen being attacked in high school hallways by bullies – and school administrators failed to step in
‘I had been cutting. It’s the only escape that I have. I am going home scared and threatened.
‘There are some people who don’t belong here.’
Not a seat was left empty in the Central Regional High School auditorium as concerned members of the public addressed 11 school board members, including acting superintendent Dr Douglas Corbett, Board President Denise Wilson, faculty and the boards attorney.
It’s the first time members of the Central Regional School District has addressed the public since 14-year-old Adriana committed suicide in her Bayville, New Jersey home, and later found inside her closet Feb 3.
Members of the public were asked to line up and speak to the board members within a 3 minute time-limit, in which harrowing cases of current and former cases of bullying spoke to what many have called an ‘inherent’ problem in the Ocean County school district.
A year 11 student named Milo Luga said that she has been ‘bullied every single school day since year 7.’
‘I’m being bullied every single day in the hallways… I had pictures put on social media,’ she explained trying to hold back tears.
Milo Luga, pictured left, says she’s also self-harming, and has been admitted to psychiatric care to deal with the mental toll of being bullied
Former student Echo McNichols, pictured center in black, said she was bullied out of the district aged 13 by cruel students who branded her ugly and fat, and who told her to kill herself
‘I’ve been to mental hospitals and self-harmed cause of things in this school.
‘My mom has called the school and nothing is done. It never really stops.’
Former student, Echo McNichols, said she was ‘bullied out of school’ at the age of 13.
‘These people and a few more I didn’t know told me I was ugly and fat and that I should kill myself,’ she said.
‘They sent me pictures of guns and said that they were going to send people to rape me.
‘I saved myself because you couldn’t do it. The silence says everything,’ she finished talking to the stony reception after she spoke.
One student said she has ‘extreme anxiety’ because of the Central Regional School adding that: ‘I would have been Adriana last year.’
Maria, said she left Central Regional High School in 1990 because she was ‘threatened by somebody in school.’
‘He told me he was going to find people to beat me up,’ she explained noting that she fears for her own child now who goes to the school.
This angry mother said her son had been assaulted by bullies every year since moving to the district, and that she had records of at least seven attacks on the autistic youngster
This former staffer says her attempts to protect gay students were unsuccessful, and that the school district is a hotbed of homophobic bullying
Thursday’s meeting was attended by hundreds of concerned parents and students, many of whom were outraged by what they claimed was the district’s inaction on bullying
Some of those in attendance held up signs decrying the violence they say the district’s schools have been plagued by
‘My daughter shouldn’t have to cut herself because of you people,’ she said.
There was a common theme among parents addressing the room a majority stating they had ‘no no faith in the board of education’ and that ‘it needs to be dismantled.’
‘This school system is under national spotlight and you are failing our students,’ said John who has children at the school.
‘These children and we the parents don’t feel like we’re being listened to it’s your job to care and educate.
‘You need to stop thinking parents are ignorant, we’re not, you need to tell us what is happening to our kids in school.’
Another mom said her son has been autistic bullied and assaulted by bullies every year since moving to the district – and that the torment only let up during COVID, when lessons went remote. She said she had records of seven attacks on the youngster, which left him covering on the the ground in a fetal position.
The stricken woman also accused staff of a cover-up by claiming footage of one of the beatings had been ‘corrupted’ – despite being able to obtain a copy of the attack herself.
And a former teacher at the school said it had been a hotbed of homophobic bullying during her time there, despite her attempts to protect gay students.
Parents of the Central Regional School District have been collecting publicly available data for a petition to investigate the administration of Central Regional School District.
The petition states: ‘In light of recent events within the CRSD, it is clear that the administration has not been properly following policies and procedures to protect our students against harassment, intimidation and bullying (HIB).’
Numerous faculty and students have complained about a lack of action over rampant bullying in the district
Michael Kuch told DailyMail.com that the school’s board were reluctant to expel the bullies because they were fearful of a loss in revenue
In the past five years there have been 115 HIB incidents reported in the middle school with only 52 being founded.
There have been 77 HIB incidents reported in the high school with only 11 founded.
‘It is not credible that the middle school has averaged only 23 HIB incidents annually, and the high school has averaged 14 HIB incidents annually,’ they wrote.
‘Clearly these incidents are highly underreported, the question is why?’
From September 2021 to January 2023 approximately a 15 month period that students were in school police responded to the high school and middle school nearly 115 times for reports of juvenile problems, threats, harassment or follow up investigations.
‘So out of the 270 days of school during this time, the police responded to the district 42 percent of the time for reports of juvenile disturbances,’ they said.
‘Yet, HIB incidents only indicate that over the last five years there have been 115 incidents, the numbers do not add up.
‘We demand that parents and guardians be provided with information and have complete involvement and notice of any HIB investigation regarding their child.’
At a press briefing which took place just hours before the meeting with parents which went from 7pm to just after 10.30 pm on Thursday night, acting superintendent Dr Douglas Corbett explained the policies and procedures in place and many others to be implemented following the tragedy.
‘Everyone at Central Regional School District and High School mourns the loss of Adriana Kuch,’ Corbett said.
‘Our thoughts and prayers are with her family and friends in this difficult time. The circumstances of her passing are disturbing, and we share the community’s shock.’
Packed into a small press room at the Central Regional High School, Corbett, addressed policies and procedures in place to content with what the school community have called a ‘systemic’ and ‘violent’ culture in the region.
When asked at the press briefing, whether he was equipped for the position given students claim he ‘laughed off sexual assault’ claims, he didn’t answer directly, and would only insist that ‘better communication’ was needed across the district.
‘I think the biggest problem we’ve had is communication,’ he said.
‘One of the things I’m definitely going to do better is to communicate the good things that we’re doing, the services that we provide and the responses that we already have in place, so the students understand that we’re here to help always.’
Adriana was just a freshman at Central Regional High School in Bayville, where her family moved seven years ago after repeatedly having to locate because her father was an Army Airborne soldier serving the country.
Her suicide has been a lightning rod that has called the school board and administrative positions into question.
Superintendent Triantafillos Parlapanides resigned following an outrageous smear against Kuch’s family in the wake of her suicide. On Thursday, it emerged he was still being paid his $190,000 salary despite resigning from his post
Stories of bullying, racism and sexual assault have emerged following the suicide with hundreds protesting the lack of action from the administration in the region.
Corbett said they’re ‘committed’ to learning from the tragedy and wanted to emphasize the current harassment, intimidation and bullying policy.
‘Our current harassment, intimidation and bullying policy and procedures are current and comply with all state laws and department of education requirements,’ he said.
‘All complaints filed by students’ family members or others in our school community are documented and investigated the outcomes of these investigations are confidential.’
He went on to say that there is a full team of specialists dedicated to the physical and emotional health of students.
‘Three anti bullying specialists are available, and we have a 27 member crisis team who are trained and have been mobilized to interview in conflicts as soon as possible,’ he said.
Questions about Adriana’s death were quickly shut down by crisis PRs Stacey Ehling and David Klucsik who represent Princeton Strategic Communications. They were taken on board by the district to address the high volume of questions being asked of the school in the wake of the tragedy.
Instead, Corbett rattled off policies they hoped to put in place, despite historic allegations of bullying including when the school was sued.
These prospective initiatives include:
● Organization of a steering committee, including parents, to evaluate and update our approach to bullying and other issues;
● Retaining an outside party to examine our policies and our responses to this crisis.
● Reviewing the District’s cell phone policy;
● Scheduling a student assembly to discuss bullying, social media risks and related contemporary issues;
● Establishing a toll-free hotline operated by an outside party, for students to call (anonymously if they wish) if they feel threatened physically or online;
● Arranging guest speakers for student assemblies focused on avoiding and preventing risky behaviors;
● Arranging for education and information sessions for parents to help them better understand bullying, harassment, and other issues impacting our students;
● Additional training for faculty, staff and parents to recognize potential problem situations and how to help; and
● More frequent communications with parents and guardians and the broader community about new and existing programs and services.
‘These are just a few examples of ideas and we look forward to developing these and other initiatives further,’ Corbett explained.
He also noted that the District maintains a policy on Harassment, Intimidation and Bullying according to State law and Department of Education requirements, including procedures for addressing bullying incidents.
Central Regional staff members are assigned to anti-bullying programs and the District maintains a professional staff devoted other child safety and welfare categories.
The District also trains and maintains a 27-member crisis team which is mobilized when needed.
‘Determining how best to improve on these priorities, and implementing effective solutions will take time. But we will not stand still,’ Corbett said.
‘We are committed to learning from this tragedy wand listening to our parents, students and our community.’
Central Regional High School has an enrolment of about 1,500 students in grades 9-12.
The District includes the municipalities of Berkeley Township, Island Heights, Ocean Gate, Seaside Heights and Seaside Park.
‘The issues of bullying and harassment are addressed in multiple ongoing programs and formal training sessions throughout the school year,’ he said.
‘All faculty and staff are required to complete training in specific areas annually we comply with all that.
Here Adriana is seen with bruises and scratches on her face
Adriana’s bruised legs after the attack. Her father said she was mostly ‘humiliated’ by the video, which made her feel like she’d been attacked ‘twice’
‘We are also reaching out to state and national organizations to help us identify policy and procedural improvements consistent with the state and federal laws.’
Hundreds of New Jersey residents packed into the emotional school board meeting on Thursday evening.
Adriana committed suicide and was found in the closet of her home Feb 3 after footage of her being beaten in the hall of her school was shared on social media.
Officials addressed outraged residents demanding action at the meeting with many accusing the administration of failing to fix an ‘inherent’ and ‘diabolical’ issue of ‘violence and bullying’ in the district.
The Central Regional School District in Ocean County also appointed Corbett as their acting superintendent, after disgraced official Triantafillos Parlapanides resigned following ‘insensitive’ comments made to DailyMail.com in an email about the tragedy.
Dozens of students in the area staged a walkout to protest a lack of action over bullying in the district last week.
The Ocean County prosecutor’s office has also reportedly met with school officials last week to probe allegations the district has failed to deal with bullying in the area.
Following the tragedy, the school district’s superintendent Triantafillos Parlapanides’ responded to questions about her death with outrageous smears against her family.
The official, who was paid $190,000-a-year, said that the 14-year-old had been offered counseling ‘for drugs’.
He also made a shocking allegation against the girl’s grieving father Michael, a 22-year Army veteran, claiming he ‘had an affair’ when Adriana was seven that drove her mother to commit suicide, and later ‘moved the woman into the house’.
In addition to his emails to DailyMail.com, Parlapanides – the highest paid school administrator in the town – also defended himself on Facebook, claiming there are ‘two sides to every story’.
His repeated comment came after an alumni saw the news of Adriana’s death and said she would never send her kids to the school.
After the emails came to light, hundreds of students and local residents gathered outside the school to mourn the loss of the teen and demand action.
Students and parents congregated outside the school grounds holding signs of protest in what they described to be ‘a shocking lack of sensitivity’ and action from the ‘administration who swore to protect’ them.
The disgraced superintendent resigned in the days following the scandal, stepping down from his lucrative six-figure role, however is still being paid, in a shocking revelation from the public seminar on Thursday.
His decision came a day after a funeral home opened its doors for visitation to allow people to pay their respects to the teenager.
Central Regional High School in Bayville, New Jersey
This is the email response Parlapanides provided to DailyMail.com when asked what counseling Adriana had been given. He claimed her ‘choices declined’, that her mother committed suicide ‘since her father had an affair’
Former faculty members have also spoken out following the tragedy, slamming the district for failing to act on widespread bullying among students.
Daniel Keiser, who says he worked at the Central Regional High School for two decades, said the bullying that led to Adriana’s suicide was ‘not new’.
In a post to Facebook, he said: ‘It is tragic that this kind of thing had to happen to wake people up. There were days where I would break up three fights before home room even started.’
The teacher said officials were ‘notorious for brushing things under the carpet’, as he slammed the district for fostering ‘a climate’ of bullying over many years.
‘My heart breaks for the parents of this young girl and her family.’
After the superintendent’s attempt to deflect blame for the tragedy onto Adriana’s family, her father Michael Kuch fired back.
Speaking to DailyMail.com, he explained how Adriana’s mother had battled addiction and tragically died in 2015, when Adriana was just seven.
He denied Parlapanides’ claims that ‘drugs counseling’ was offered to his daughter, instead explaining that he and his wife sought help for her because she had been smoking marijuana with a vape – as many kids at the school did.
‘I don’t know how to respond to this insane deflection,’ Mr. Kuch said in response to the superintendent’s emails.
‘This guy is a piece of s**t,’ he said, at the same time he was preparing for his daughter’s funeral.
He also hit out at the system within the school that allowed the bullying, feeling that if the videos had not circulated the perpetrators would have ‘ended up with a one day suspension or in no trouble at all.’
He continued: ‘I can’t begin to tell you how angry I am at the school, at the police department.
‘The [school] has done nothing. They should not be in charge of our children’s safety.’
Complaints about the school’s severe problem with bullying were repeated in a post to social media by former student CeCe Lane, who wrote that teachers would often watch on instead of step in to prevent bullying.
Lane said one incident saw her once attacked by another girl in the school gym while teachers remained behind locker room doors.
‘They did not bother to help,’ she said.
‘I know plenty of people that got bullied, fought, and humiliated, the school always looked the other way.
‘Your job is to protect these students and prevent bullying from happening. But you have failed.’
Read more at DailyMail.co.uk