Lycée Français leader explains bullying stance

The interim chief of Lycée Français de la Nouvelle Orleans told parents in a letter Tuesday night that she was banned from her daughter’s school three years ago after she took action to halt her bullying of her daughter.

Gisele Schexnider wrote that her daughter was in the fifth grade in January 2010, when she tearfully told Schexnider that she had been threatened by a male classmate at Audubon Charter School.

The boy, Schexnider wrote, had been “repeatedly bullying her, including physical intimidation and teasing, with acts ranging from a punch in the stomach to mocking a great-grandfather who served as a rabbi in Eastern Europe and was the subject of a report she proudly presented to her class.”

Schexnider said she went to the school to speak to the teacher and to try to stop the boy’s behavior — perhaps getting an apology from the boy. But the boy’s teacher stopped Schexnider from speaking to him.

“I did, however want the situation resolved, so I turned in the boy’s direction and from across the room said I would talk with him and his parents about his behavior after school,” Schexnider wrote before clarifying that she’s not sure three years later whether she mentioned the parents or not.

The boy, she said, laughed in response.

Schexnider said the principal at Audubon assured her that she would investigate the matter.

“Unfortunately, the school’s administrators did misinterpret my words and actions that day as a perceived threat to a student,” Schexnider wrote. “Nothing could have been further from the truth, and I am sorry to say that was not the first disagreement I had had with the administrators.”

Schexnider released the statement to parents in response to an article published Tuesday by The Lens. The story detailed a 2010 letter from Audubon assistant principal Dawn Collins to Schexnider prohibiting Schexnider from stepping foot on campus without prior written permission, following what Collins described as Schexnider’s “threat” to a student.

A redacted incident report shared with The Lens in response to a public records request did not describe what sparked the disagreement between Schexnider and the male student.

Neither Schexnider nor an attorney for Lycée responded to The Lens’ questions about the matter prior to the story’s publication.

“In retrospect,” Schexnider wrote in her letter to parents, “had I any idea that letter would come to public light, even in the blogosphere, and reflect poorly on me or on this school, I would have responded forcefully at the time with the true interpretation of events.’’

The Lens on Wednesday morning left messages with both Schexnider and with Audubon Principal Janice Dupuy seeking further comment.

Schexnider wrote in her letter to parents that today, her daughter and the child she was accused of threatening “get along just fine.”

The experience, Schexnider wrote, has made her sensitive to bullying concerns in schools and is part of the inspiration for a new anti-bullying program she hopes to institute at Lycée.

Schexnider was hired in November to lead Lycée on an interim basis and to serve as the school’s academic director. A former French teacher at McGehee School for Girls, Schexnider has sought to increase communication at the politically divided school by holding regular coffee talks with parents.

Her hiring was met with substantial criticism from some in the school community who complained it lacked transparency, as the job was never posted. Lycée board President Jean Montes said he hired her without first holding a public meeting. The board later agreed in a public meeting to “ratify” that decision.

In response to loud and detailed criticism of the board’s leadership, another group of parents issued its own letter in support of Schexnider and the changes they believe she has brought to the school.

This story is published in cooperation with the Internet news site The Lens, http://www.thelensnola.com.