Concord family discusses bullying that led to assault

by Karina Coombs

During the April 11 joint meeting of the Concord and Concord-Carlisle Regional School (RSC) Committees, Concord residents Francis and Linda McGovern detailed the events that led up to the February 2 assault of their 8th grade son allegedly by four Concord Middle School students and four students from the Concord-Carlisle Regional High School (CCHS). The incident resulted in an investigation by the Concord Police and a number of criminal charges have been filed against the students, including one for felony assault.

The McGoverns explained that on the day of the incident, their son was participating in a Concord Recreation Department basketball program at the Ripley School gymnasium. They were unaware that 9th grade students were running the event without adult supervision. The boy’s father said that their son was often late for the program because of a prior engagement, but on this evening he received a number of Snapchat messages from boys on the team inquiring as to his whereabouts. When he did finally arrive at the school, according to Francis McGovern, eight students began throwing basketballs and shoes at him, while also spraying him with bleach, including in his eyes. 

The McGoverns said that their son had been bullied by one of the eight students the previous year and asked the committee if things would have been different if the bullying had been addressed earlier. 

The family expressed their surprise that nothing had been in place to help them, especially considering the federal lawsuit the district faced in 2013 from a former Carlisle student. That suit was dismissed for lack of merit in 2015, but in her decision, U.S. District Court Judge Indira Talwani wrote that the “…defendants should have done more to protect [the] plaintiff and take the incidents seriously.” (See “CCHS bullying lawsuit dismissed,” October 7, 2015.)

Francis McGovern said that he felt the school district was trying to minimize what happened and demanded an investigation at the Concord Middle School. He said that while Middle School students were cited, nothing was done at the high school level. 

Linda McGovern described her son as fearful of attending CCHS in the fall and having withdrawn from extracurricular activities. “No child or family in Concord or Carlisle should experience this,” said her husband. “It’s just really sad that it got to this level,” she said. The family asked the school committees look into the incident along with the new superintendent. 

Superintendent Diana Rigby was not present at the April 11 meeting, but she later issued a statement expressing outrage over the situation and noting that the middle school students were disciplined under the school’s anti-bullying policy. 

Rigby also noted that it was the opinion of the district’s legal counsel that the high school students involved could not be disciplined by CCHS because the incident did not take place on school property nor was it at a school sponsored event. However, she added, “our deference to the legal system should not be interpreted as condoning the outrageous behavior, and letters were sent to their families expressing our concerns.” 

Rigby also wrote that the middle school principal and vice-principal have been checking on the student and working with the family to ensure their son’s continued safety, and there had been no further incidents. “We are sincerely sorry for what the McGovern’s son has endured and we are committed to continuing to provide a supervised, safe, and conducive learning environment for their son,” she wrote. 

Questions to Rigby about the criminal investigation were referred to the Concord Police Department. When reached by email for comment, Chief Joseph O’Connor replied that because the incident involved juveniles, he was unable to comment. ∆