This article originally appeared in The Daily News on June 22, 2014.
Fewer than one in five city schools ’fessed up to even a single incident of bullying on a new tracking system run by the state — proof, advocates say, that Education Department officials and principals have failed to address a dangerous reality for many students.
The Dignity for All Students Act of 2010 required all city schools to report incidents of bullying to a public database, so that school leaders and education officials could better address the issue. But for the 2012-13 school year, the first year for which data was collected, a whopping 1,378 city schools reported zero incidents of bullying or harassment — including violence-plagued Intermediate School 117 in the Bronx, where police say Noel Estevez, an emotionally disturbed 14-year-old, fatally stabbed classmate Timothy Crump, 14, on Wednesday.
That’s nearly 80% of city schools that did not report a single incident of bullying or harassment. “They don’t take it seriously when parents come to administrators and teachers saying their child is being bullied,” said Mona Davids, president of the New York City Parents Union. “They’re not taking down the reports. They’re just not.”
Bullying in city schools has been a problem for years, but it turned deadly at I.S. 117 last week. Noel’s mother told the Daily News the victim was a young brute whose relentless bullying provoked her son. Maria Estevez said Noel’s father, Felix, spoke to the principal the night before the stabbing to complain about Noel being bullied by Crump, who had previously been suspended for punching another student in the jaw. Efforts to get a safety transfer for Noel failed.
“The school did nothing,” the boy’s mother told The News.
Other schools, such as DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx and Manhattan’s Murry Bergtraum High School, where reports of violence and mayhem are commonplace, also failed to report an instance of bullying.
Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña said the status quo is unacceptable. “We will redouble our efforts to ensure that our schools accurately report incidents of bullying and that the law fulfills its intent of keeping our children safe, both inside and outside of the classroom,” she said in a statement.
At Williamsburg Charter High School, Xavier Diaz, 15, endured bullying that began late in 2013, his father, Richard Diaz said. The dad said he warned school administrators that a student intended to exact revenge on Xavier for a previous beef — but that officials did nothing.
Xavier, who has autism, was beat up on Monday by a group of kids, leaving him bruised and scared to return to school, said Richard Diaz, 48.
“I feel very helpless. You send your child to get an education — they should be in a safe environment,” he said.
Williamsburg Charter reported six bullying incidents last year. Ellen Eagen, the charter school’s counsel, said staff were in daily contact with Diaz about his son. She disputed his portrayal of the beatdown, which occurred off of school grounds and allegedly involved some kids who do not attend the school. “Any allegation that this incident is a result of the school ignoring a bullying issue is inaccurate and defamatory,” she said.
Principals’ union president Ernie Logan said administrators often struggle with what actually constitutes bullying. “I don’t want you to think I’m taking this lightly. But what is indeed bullying when dealing with adolescents?” he said. “People take it seriously. But the question becomes what do you do about it?”
Logan said that adding more staff with expertise in mental health would be a good start to tackling the problem.
Only one school reported over 100 bullying cases last year — Opportunity Charter School in Harlem.
But the charter’s middle school principal, Allison Mutzel, said the 119 documented incidents didn’t indicate an extreme problem — but instead showed the staff took bullying seriously.
“I am very disturbed by the lack of reporting going on in this city,” Mutzel said. “I have worked in many schools in the city and the state over the past decade and I can say with confidence that bullying has occurred at every one in much larger numbers than I see it here.”
With Erik Badia and Sabrina Caserta