Posted on February 1, 2012

Kid Bullied to Leave School Because He Wasn’t ‘Black Enough’

Vinti Singh, CT Post, January 31, 2012

The student stabbed Ryan in the back with a mechanical pencil and walked away. There was no explanation, no words exchanged at all. But Ryan knew why it happened. Scared to tell the teacher, all Ryan could do was to go to the bathroom to wash off the blood.

It was all because of the color of his skin, his mom, Gail Rodriguez said. He was often the only light-skinned student in his classes, which were predominantly black. Ryan, who is half white and half Puerto Rican, was called names like “stupid white cracker.”

Minority students around the region told Hearst Connecticut Newspapers they have been called n — — -, or terrorist, or told to go back to the other side of the border.

A 2011 U.S. Department of Justice survey shows that 54 percent of Asian-American teenagers, 38.4 percent of black students and 34.3 percent of Hispanics reported being bullied in the classroom. The survey found that 31.3 percent of white students reported being bullied.

For minorities, the bullying can often center around their race, said Michelle Pincince, who directs school programs on bullying for the Connecticut Anti-Defamation League.

“Racism is everywhere, whether it’s urban, suburban or rural,” she said.


Pincince said minorities can experience bullying even from fellow minority students. Students tend to be lumped as “African American” or “Hispanic,” but within those races are diverse cultures and students may pick on a student who is Jamaican or Puerto Rican, she said.

“There’s also a lot of pain for students around the issue of ‘you’re not black enough,’ “ Pincence said. “If a student does well in school, he is called ‘white.’ It’s not just students who are biracial, but any student of color in AP (advance placement) courses or speaks what they consider proper English can be targeted.”


Ryan Rodriguez is a small, wiry, 12-year-old with a mop of curly, light brown hair. Getting him to open up about how he likes to draw and play video games is difficult enough. But to get him to talk about the day he was stabbed and the bullying he endured at a magnet school in New Haven is nearly impossible. {snip}

Ryan was at first very excited to attend the Engineering and Science University Magnet School. He has always had an interest in robotics and engineering. {snip}

Half the student at EASUMS are black, 25 percent are white, 7 percent Asian, and about 17 percent are Hispanic. He felt he’d fit in fine.

{snip} In seventh grade, the bullying started. Classmates would take his stuff and hide it. They would take his binders and stomp on the rings so the binder would break and all of his papers would fall out.

“Those are $10 a piece and I bought three of them,” Gail said. “We bought three $20 lunch containers. Those disappeared. I bought a school jacket. $34. Gone. I had to buy him pencils every other day.”

The only clue Ryan has about why he was picked on was the names they called him. “Cracker.” “Stupid white cracker.” “Whitey.” They hardly ever called him Ryan.


When Gail complained, the teachers would tell Gail they’d have to catch the kids in the act of stealing before they could do anything about it. They suggested Ryan be more responsible for his things. Gail tried to tell the principal what was happening, but she said her emails and phone calls went unanswered.\


Gail finally got a meeting with the principal after she contacted the district’s parent liaison. But at the meeting, Ryan would not open up about what happened. He was afraid to because the students had told him, “snitches get stitches.”

Under state law, racism is considered a civil rights violation and students who harass others based on race can be prosecuted, said William Howe, the civil rights compliance coordinator for the state Department of Education.

“State attorneys have prosecuted children as little as 4 years old,” Howe said. {snip}

Ryan has the right to file a discrimination complaint with the state Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities or Office of Civil Rights in Boston, Howe said. Rodriguez said she did not know Ryan had those recourses, and no one at the Board of Education told her about them.


As the bullying continued, Ryan developed severe anxiety, Gail said. He would make up excuses not to go to school. He’d say he had a stomachache, or a headache, or he would make himself gag. He’d purposefully miss the bus.

When Ryan said he was stabbed with the mechanical pencil, Gail pulled him from the school and enrolled him in Ansonia public schools. The bullying has stopped and Ryan said he feels safe again. But the school has no advanced engineering classes he can take.

Gail said she is looking for a discrimination lawyer to help her bring a case of gross negligence against the New Haven Board of Education.

“They should have been protecting him,” she said.