MARGARETVILLE _ The girl who was the target of an alleged plot by a group of second-grade boys at Margaretville Central School returned to school this week.
School Superintendent John Riedl said last week that he had encouraged the girl's parents, Peter and Joan Pizzillo, to send their child back to school the week after the May 8 incident, but they refused until measures were taken to ensure the safety of their daughter.
Riedl said he hired an aide to spend the rest of the school year with the girl.
On May 8, seven second-graders were charged by state police with fifth-degree conspiracy, a misdemeanor. Two are 7 years old, four are age 8 and one is age 9. Troopers were called after school officials became aware of an alleged plot to hit the girl with a brick and stab her.
Her father, Peter Pizzillo, said Tuesday, "she's back in school and she is protected, but we still don't know all the details of the plot."
He said the plan by the boys to seriously harm his 8-year-old daughter during recess shocked and frightened him and his wife.
"We are all very upset," Riedl said. "We are doing everything we can to provide support to whoever needs it and to make this a better place. We are trying hard to make her parents feel comfortable."
The mother of one of the accused boys said last week that she found it interesting that her son came home from school Monday, which was the first day the girl was back in school, and said that she was the only mom who told her son to be nice to the girl.
"All of the rest of the parents told their sons to stay away from her," she said.
"I told my son that he needs to be kind and friendly,'' the mother, who agreed to talk on condition that she not be identified, continued. ``I asked him how he would feel if he had been out of school for three weeks and when he came back no one would talk to him.
``We need to work things out and start fresh," she added.
Riedl said the school has hired counselor/mediator Duke Fisher to help do just that.
Fisher is having a series of meetings in which the parents of the children sit down with school officials and school board members to work through the issues surrounding the incident.
He said the group was scheduled to meet for the third time Wednesday.
"We are trying to offer an opportunity to work together as a community on issues that need to be worked out, including communication, fear, anger and the accusations that have been going on," Fisher said Monday.
"There is never an excuse for what went on here," Fisher said. "It takes an enormous amount of courage for these parents to come to the table and work on change. It's pretty amazing."
Last week, Pizzillo and his wife, Joan, sat in the living room of their mountaintop Margaretville home recounting the incidents surrounding the alleged threat by classmates to take their daughter's life.
Pizzillo said he and his wife were not immediately informed that their child was the target of an elaborate three-part plan drawn up by one or two of the boys.
The plan, which was detailed in a drawing, allegedly began with striking the girl on the head with a brick. Pizzillo said he was told my another parent that if the brick didn't work the boys would take the girl into a small house on the playground where several would stand guard outside while the girl was stabbed. If that didn't work, they planned to drown her on an upcoming field trip.
The night before the alleged murder attempt, a classmate not involved in the plot told her mother that "something bad was going to happen in school the next day," Pizzillo said.
The mother alerted school authorities and insisted that they investigate the child's story.
After learning of the plot, the Pizzillos said, school officials called the parents of all the children involved and requested that they come to the school, but that they did not contact the Pizzillos to alert them that their daughter may have been in danger as the intended victim.
Riedl said last week that he immediately tried to call the Pizzillos. He said they are a retired couple and are usually home, but that day he reached an answering machine with an automated message.
"I realized later that I had been given the wrong phone number," Riedl said.
Pizzillo said Riedl was waiting for him when he arrived to pick up his daughter after school.
"Mr. Riedl told me that the children wanted to hurt my daughter," Pizzillo said. "Thirteen children were interviewed but the school never called us back the whole day."
He said he was not told that day or for two more weeks that there was a death threat.
The Pizzillos said their daughter had suffered minor injuries all year during incidents with the boys in her class.
"She was injured 15 to 20 times," Pizzillo said. He said the incidents included a pencil stab to her hand, a black eye from being hit by a snowball and bruises from being pushed off platforms and into walls.
"She went to the school nurse for a lot of the incidents and the nurse went to the principal and said (the child) was getting hurt way too much," Pizzillo said. "The culprits were bigger, heavier and stronger. The situation was an accident waiting to happen."
Principal Linda Taylor said last week that she has never ignored any incident with a student that has come to her attention.
"The perception (the Pizzillos) have that we weren't concerned is because they have been upset," Taylor said. "We take very seriously any incidents when students are hurt and work to rectify the situation.
"But there are two sides to every story and in this case there are many layers and many nuances," Taylor said. "The age of the children makes it very complicated and our focus is on the students. There are as many stories here as there are people involved."
Pizzillo said after the plot was revealed, he heard nothing from the school until Riedl called him on May 19 after a Delaware County Department of Social Services case worker came to their house to interview their daughter.
On May 21, the Pizzillos said they attended the Margaretville Board of Education meeting and were not allowed to talk about the incident.
On May 22, they went to the first meeting with Fisher and said they found out for the first time that the plot included a plan to kill their daughter.
"I was numb when I heard it," Joan Pizzillo said. "These kids need some kind of counseling. They need help."
Patricia Breakey can be reached at 746-2894 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.