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Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock

As thousands of Queens students went back to school last week, one elected official launched a campaign to change the way the Department of Education (DOE) reports instances of bullying and protects children in classrooms citywide.

“Yesterday, over 1 million children went back to our public schools,” began NYC Public Advocate Letitia James in a release. “Sadly, too many of these children were filled with fear and anxiety over bullying and sexual harassment, instead of excitement and anticipation about seeing friends and meeting new teachers.”

 

On Sept. 8, James announced a three-part citywide campaign to reform the way bullying and harassment in schools is reported and make parents more aware of their right to report such instances.

According to James, the first step is urging the DOE to “increase transparency about the number and nature of sexual harassment and bullying incidents.”

“Based on complaints received by the Public Advocate’s Office and previous audits and reports, Public Advocate James does not believe that the DOE is in full compliance with the Dignity Act or Title IX reporting,” read part of an announcement about the campaign on the public advocate’s website.

Legislation already in place — the State’s Dignity for All Students Act (Dignity Act) and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (Title IX) — requires that New York State schools and districts report incidents of harassment or discrimination and take measures to protect students from sexual discrimination, harassment and assault. However, this information is not currently public, and concern with provided data arose after a 2015 audit by State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli and a recent report released by Attorney General Schneiderman both suggested that the DOE was under-reporting cases of violent or disruptive incidents in city school within the five boroughs.

In an effort to make this data accessible to the public, James’ second measure is introducing legislation to City Council which would “require the DOE to make this information about bullying and sexual harassment public on a continued and regular basis.”

“In order to adequately protect our children, we must know the real facts about the threats they face,” James wrote.

The Public Advocate’s third step is an awareness campaign aimed at parents. Using social media and community outreach, the campaign will inform parents of their “right to send their child to a school that is free of harassment and bullying,” as well as “the right to know the procedures for reporting incidents of harassment and abuse and to have those complaints effectively addressed.”

“The safety of our children is our number one priority and we will never stop working to protect our kids from harm,” James wrote.

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