Posted with permission from NJ.com
Emma Spektor, 9, refuses to return to her fourth-grade classroom because of alleged bullying. Her mom, Irina Spektor, said she won't force her daughter to return to Thelma L. Sandmeier Elementary School in Springfield until she's moved to a different classroom. (Courtesy of Irina Spektor) Emma Spektor, 9, refuses to return to her fourth-grade classroom because of alleged bullying. Her mom, Irina Spektor, said she won't force her daughter to return to Thelma L. Sandmeier Elementary School in Springfield until she's moved to a different classroom. (Courtesy of Irina Spektor)

SPRINGFIELD -- The teasing by Emma Spektor's third-grade classmates started with cruel remarks about her freckles and a birthmark on her right leg, she said.

Then, she said, the students at Thelma L. Sandmeier Elementary School called her ugly, said her artwork was trash and told her she belonged in the garbage. 

Now in the fourth grade, Emma refuses to go to school for fear of what her classmates will say, and her mom is fighting to get her daughter transferred into one of four other classrooms at her grade level. 

"It felt really upsetting and scary to go to school every single day, because every single day they would go up to me and try to make me miserable," said Emma, 9. "I can't believe I survived one year of it, but I can't do it again." 

Emma kept quiet about the bullying during her third-grade year after her teacher allegedly told her she could "figure it out herself," said Emma's mom, Irina Spektor. She said when Emma finally told her about the four classmates' hurtful words, Emma made her promise not to complain to the school. 

Spektor said she kept her promise until a week before the current school year began, when the family received a letter telling them that Emma's third-grade class was being kept together for the fourth grade. 

Spektor then set up a meeting with Principal Michael Plias, who she said told her that school staff would investigate the bullying and make sure no one was bothering Emma.

But Emma was seated at a table with one of the students who was teasing her, Spektor said, and she started to have headaches and trouble sleeping. Every morning, she cried and begged her mom not to make her go to school, Spektor said. 

At another meeting with the principal, Spektor said she presented letters from Emma's physician and her therapist, saying that Emma's health depended on her being moved to a different classroom. After that conversation was unsuccessful, Spektor said she decided not to force Emma to return to school.

In the five weeks for which Emma has been out of class, her younger brother has been bringing home her schoolwork and homework, Spektor said. She said she has retained an attorney to negotiate with the school but has not yet heard anything from school officials. 

"At the end of the day, her (Emma's) safety and her well-being is my top priority, and my only concern," Spektor said. "I don't feel that she's safe being forced to continue to stay in that classroom." 

In a letter posted on the school district's website, Superintendent Michael Davino said officials investigate every accusation of bullying and sometimes ask their legal counsel to conduct a second-round investigation. He said prior news reports about Emma's case included inaccuracies and lacked information about how the district probes bullying allegations.

"We have been and are continuing to address that particular situation," Davino wrote. "In fact, two investigations were conducted, the second of which by an outside entity is ongoing." 

Davino wrote that the district always takes into account information from students' doctors, and he said district officials "remain committed to working through this, and every, bullying claim."

Davino and Plias, the principal, did not respond to a request for additional comment.

Marisa Iati may be reached at miati@njadvancemedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @Marisa_Iati or on Facebook here. Find NJ.com on Facebook

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