Peekskill School District does not feel like part of a “Friendly Town”


By Gabriel Berger

Gabriel Berger is a 2022 graduate of PHS and was in the student journalist program. A current student at SUNY Purchase, he began working on this opinion piece earlier this spring. 

While the Peekskill School District Administration goes on and on about Peekskill Pride, to some Peekskill students, it feels disjointed from their own experience with the culture at the schools.

That culture? One of conformity and bullying anyone who fits outside the norm of the school. If anyone doesn’t wear the “right” clothing, or listen to the “right” music, or is a member of the LGBTQ+ community, or simply stand out as different from their peers, they are bullied and harassed.

“My experience was just a few offhand comments that didn’t escalate,” says Isabella Contreras, a class of 2021 graduate who was recognizable for dressing in a goth manner and having dyed hair. “Annoying stuff about how I dress or how I must be into BDSM since I wore chokers.” What she went through was on the lower end of the scale.

Malik Fisher, class of 2022, was bullied in middle school for his haircut, which was to the scalp, the way he dressed, and the fact that he had an Android instead of an iPhone. It caused him a great deal of distress. “That’s why I have hair now,” he says, “I also have an iPhone and wear name brands. I changed my whole character to make it stop.”

Fisher mentioned how he’d seen quite a bit of cyberbullying. Impersonation accounts, posts trying to instigate fights, group chats where people would talk about those not in the group chat. Students’ nudes would be exposed. Several Instagram accounts, now removed, have been made to slander others, such as a Peekskill Thotty (Thot standing for That Hoe Over There, now used as another way to call someone a slut), and Offbeat Peekskill, the latter of which featured bad pictures of students, that would be made fun of.

“They need to get some hobbies,” Fisher says, “Like, do they have nothing else to do?”

Damien Ritter, a current student in the class of 2024, is a trans man who has faced quite a bit of transphobia from students and teachers alike. And he says he knows other trans people who have faced discrimination.

Miranda Berger is a nonbinary student in the class of 2026, and has experienced and seen a lot of bullying. “I was attacked for my gender identity, and was assaulted and harassed. The administration did almost nothing. The only suspension came when someone brought in a weapon, but nothing other than that.” Berger is autistic, and was told they were “overreacting” to the “constant bullying”.

I have personally gone through a bit of bullying myself. I was bullied for liking metal music, being part of the LGBTQ+ community, and for being passionate about my interests. I developed depression from that, and later on was diagnosed with autism, likely the cause for being seen as “weird”.

Ritter says that one way something could maybe be done is “if the school held a survey for students based upon bullying, and held a town hall meeting showing statistics (have you been bullied? For what? By who? Kind of questions). I think it would open people’s eyes a bit. Especially about all the LGBTQphobia going on.”

Contreras mentions that when she was there “sometimes teachers would hear bad things  a student says but pretend not to have heard”. She wishes they would stand up for the kids who were being teased, as well as the administration.

When asked for a comment Dr. Mauricio said: “Our district stands firmly against bullying as we want our schools to be safe havens for all scholars to learn, connect and grow together.  While bullying is a national challenge, our Peekskill administrators are focused on supporting our students by addressing complaints, providing resources, working with parents to assist, and helping students to learn from their behavior.  Our administrators work passionately each day to create a positive school culture and we remain committed to continuing our efforts to find solutions. Collectively, we all bear the responsibility as parents, educators and community members to help our scholars honor one another for the qualities that make each of us uniquely special.”

Peekskill City School District also has various programs to assist students, which look really good in print.

There are a total of 25 mental health professionals (which breaks down to 6 social workers, 11 school counselors, 8 psychologists) for a district population of 3,395 students. There is one social worker for each school except the high school, which has two. They also have multiple partnerships with mental health and counseling agencies on and off school grounds, which all have waiting lists.

The infrastructure is not there for the amount of bullying that goes on. This is backed up by various parents and students telling of lack of response by administration for all types of bullying.

If the administration stands up for those students that are being bullied, then maybe we can actually all feel that Peekskill Pride.