Students denounce bullying in New Jersey school district where teenager died by suicide

A student at Central Regional High School in Berkeley Township is comforted during a school board meeting as she speaks about the abuse she says she has received.

(CNN)At the first school board meeting in Bayville, New Jersey, since a 14-year-old student died by suicide days after being attacked by four classmates, administrators heard powerful commentary from current and former students who said they've been bullied without recourse from school district officials.

Several current and former students approached the microphone at a Central Regional School Board of Education meeting Thursday, sharing their struggles with bullying at Central Regional High School in Berkeley Township.
Some said they had experienced thoughts of suicide.
      "We're scared to walk in the hallway," one freshman told the school board. Another student said she has been called names she can't repeat out loud.
        One student said she returns home from school feeling threatened.
          "My name is Danielle. I am also so many other names that people have called me over the years and you guys have done nothing," that student said.
          Adriana Kuch, 14, was found dead in her Bayville home February 3, her father told CNN. Two days before her death, a TikTok video showed the freshman student being assaulted in a school hallway by a group of teenagers, prosecutors say. Michael Kuch believes his daughter died late at night on February 2, shortly after she sent her last text message at 10:46 p.m., he said.
          In the wake of Kuch's death, four students at the high school were charged in connection with the attack, Ocean County Prosecutor Bradley D. Billhimer said in a statement to CNN. The former superintendent of the school district, Triantafillos Parlapanides, resigned from his post Saturday, effective immediately, the district said in a statement on its website.
          The incident has sparked outrage among students and parents who say it reflects a culture of bullying in the district. The community is calling on school district officials to improve how it handles allegations of bullying.
          One student's allegations of bullying at the high school were detailed in a lawsuit filed in October, CNN previously reported. The lawsuit claims a different 14-year-old girl was physically assaulted by two teenagers, one of whom had allegedly sent her threatening text messages in December 2021.
          The school district said in a statement days after Kuch's death that it is "evaluating all current and past allegations of bullying" and will "undergo an independent assessment of the District's anti-bullying policies and ensure every necessary safeguard is in place to protect our students and staff."

          After being bullied, student says she self-harmed

          The attack on Adriana Kuch, who was walking with her boyfriend in the hallway at the time, was recorded on video and posted later that same day on social media platforms, including TikTok, which prompted a slew of hateful comments and online bullying that Michael Kuch said drove his daughter to take her own life.
          The video, obtained and reviewed by CNN, shows the freshman student being hit in the face with a water bottle several times. The footage shows Adriana was punched, kicked and her hair was pulled. Kuch says his daughter suffered bruising and blacked out for a short time as a result of the attack.
          Kuch has accused the school district of mishandling the attack. He says police should have been notified immediately and that his daughter should have been taken to the hospital.
          "I want this to stop happening to other kids," Kuch previously told CNN. "This isn't just my daughter. A lot of kids are facing this at school."
          Hundreds of people were in attendance Thursday, including family members and parents, when School Board of Education President Denise Pavone-Wilson started the meeting, saying she wanted to begin the process of healing at school.
          The school board president said the board offered their "most sincere deepest sympathies to the family of our student, Adriana Kuch."
          During the meeting, one student said their classmates have tried to "jump" them because of their sexual orientation and that photographs taken of them in school have been posted on social media.
          This student said they were suicidal and self-harmed in the past because of "things that happened to me in this school."
          Kuch was remembered warmly by another student who described her as a "very sweet and kind girl" who helped her on her first day of school when she didn't know anyone yet.
          Parents and family members also shared their emotional testimony at the meeting.
          One parent said food had been thrown at her daughter in a school cafeteria. Another woman, who said her niece was severely bullied at a high school in the district, asked why a student had to die by suicide for "us to hit rock bottom."
          "It should have never gone there," that woman said. "Rock bottom should have been the first time a student was bullied, and it should have been taken care of from that point on."

          New leadership vows to improve policies

          When Pavone-Wilson told attendees at the meeting that faculty and staff always had the "best interest of the students and their education at the forefront," one person in the audience yelled out "not true" and applause followed.
          Then, amid jeering from the crowd, the board moved to officially appoint Dr. Douglas Corbett as the district's acting superintendent following Parlapanides's resignation. Some members of the audience shouted "resign" and "leave" as the motion to appoint Corbett passed.
            Shortly before the meeting began, Corbett said the circumstances of Kuch's death "were disturbing and we share in the community's shock."
            New school district leadership is looking into a handful of initiatives, including retaining an outside party to examine the district's policies and response to crises and creating a focus group of teachers and parents to handle the issues, according to Corbett.