By Mara Silvers and Yasmeen Khan
Originally published by WNYC on October 30, 2017
New York City education officials said on Monday they would commit $8 million system-wide to expand anti-bullying measures and create new programs, including devising an online complaint portal for families and providing targeted support for 300 schools with high rates of bullying.
Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña announced the initiatives at a City Council oversight hearing on bullying, harassment and discrimination in the public schools. The issue of safety and bullying, specifically, came under scrutiny since a student was fatally stabbed in a classroom at the Urban Assembly School for Wildlife Conservation last month.
“Today’s hearing was prompted in part by the tragic incident,” said City Council Member Daniel Dromm, “in which one student lost his life, another was seriously injured, and a third had his life forever altered.”
Dromm chairs the Committee on Education, and called specifically for better anti-bullying programs that protects LGBTQ students.
“Anti-bullying education is worth nothing unless the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer words are used at every grade level,” Dromm said in his opening remarks. “Not to do so actually contributes to the problem by sending the message that being LGBTQ is so bad that it can only be discussed at certain times.”
The City Council voted to advance legislation that would require the Department of Education to provide additional support for LGBTQ students, as well as release data about bullying and which schools maintain Gender and Sexuality Alliances.
Other new programs announced by the department Monday included more anti-bias and anti-bullying training for all school-based staff; workshops in mental health support for students, school staff and parents alike; and a new protocol that requires schools to create an action plan for a student who is accused repeatedly of bullying (and when those claims are substantiated).
“We also recognize that all members of a school community have vital roles to play in preventing bullying,” said Fariña. “We are seeking greater input from parents, and building robust accountability systems.”
Starting in 2019, families will be able to file complaints about student bullying or discrimination through an online portal, officials said. The tool will also help the city track which schools need additional help.
The chancellor came under an intense line of questioning in regard to the specific high school where the stabbing occurred last month. Council Members Rafael Salamanca and Ritchie Torres said they spoke to the former principal of the Urban Assembly School For Wildlife Conservation after the attack, who alleged that the department did not provide the school with help in the months proceeding the stabbing.
“She said that she made various requests to increase the amount of school safety agents and she also made a request for scanning, and that request was denied,” said Salamanca.
“That principal did get an additional school safety agent,” countered Fariña. “She got them last spring.”
Superintendent Fred Walsh announced Friday that Astrid Jacobo would no longer be principal of the Urban Assembly School For Wildlife Conservation, citing the need for a “new leader to stabilize the school.”
Council Member Torres pressed Fariña to say that the Urban Assembly School For Wildlife Conservation was facing a “systemic problem” of bullying.
“There is obviously a problem, we’re going to get to the bottom of it. But systemic is a very big word and I think right now until the investigation is complete, I really want to reserve judgment on it,” said Fariña.
Torres countered that a 2016-17 schools survey, 92 percent of the teachers at the Urban Assembly School For Wildlife Conservation said that students were bullied, intimidated and harassed either “most of the time or some of the time.”
“And so even though the D.O.E. cannot acknowledge that there might be a systemic problem, your own teachers claim otherwise,” Torres said.
The family of 15-year-old Matthew McCree, who was fatally stabbed by 18-year-old Abel Cedeno, has said they will sue the city for his death. Cedeno’s lawyers and family have said he was bullied. McCree’s mother has said her son never bullied anyone.
The Department of Education said it is conducting a thorough investigation of the incident.
In addition to the anti-bullying measures, department officials released suspension data from the 2016-17 school year. The report shows total number of suspensions declined 6.4 percent, compared to previous school year. There were also fewer school arrests and summonses issued by school safety agents.
Read more here.