By Phil Corso
Bullying among Queens youth has gotten out of hand and it is up to the city Department of Education to fix it, borough lawmakers said.
Borough City Council members called on the city to implement mandatory anti-bullying training and tougher consequences for offenders in schools in a press conference last week. The push came weeks after Queens Village 12-year-old Gabrielle Molina killed herself in a suicide that law enforcement officials suspected stemmed from cyberbullying.
“Bullying is not a phase that children go through as a normal part of growing up,” Councilman Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens) said. “We live in a world where bullying has serious, harmful consequences.”
Weprin wrote the city’s anti-bullying law, which passed in 2011 and required the city Human Rights Commission to implement training courses for city employees on bias-related harassment. But after news broke about Gabrielle’s death in his own district, Weprin reignited his anti-bullying push and said the city needed to do more.
“A slap on the wrist is not enough,” Weprin said. “The DOE needs to adopt stronger disciplinary measures and clear consequences so that students will think twice before posting or commenting on a humiliating photo or online video of another student.”
City Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) said he has seen extreme cases of bullying throughout his 25 years as a teacher in New York and stood with his colleagues in government to demand tighter anti-bullying policies.
“I had one child who was Sikh and had his turban pulled off. I had students who were bullied with the use of the word ‘gay’ and teased because they were perceived to be different from other children,” he said. “I only left teaching four years ago, and it was still happening then.”
The city has undertaken several measures to combat bullying, including the implementation of the “Respect for All Week” initiative to encourage tolerance in schools through lectures, art projects and discussions. The Council also set aside $30,000 for the confidential Be BRAVE hotline, a United Federation of Teachers project to help fight bullying.
“Citywide and around the nation, millions of young students have become victims of bullying at a very early age,” said Councilman Peter Koo (D-Flushing). “We have had too many wake-up calls as a city, and the tragic passing of little Gabrielle Molina is only further proof that the current anti-bullying measures in public schools are not enough.”
Weprin and his colleagues in the Council said the city needed to mandate a bullying prevention curriculum for students in Grades 6 through 12. Their teachers are not exempt either, Weprin said, and should complete professional development seminars teaching them how to deal with bullying incidents in schools.
“Too many children and teens have suffered for no good reason,” he said. “If we want our children to grow up in a compassionate society, there is absolutely no place for bullying of any kind.”
Weprin joined with colleagues in the Council last week, who said the incident in Queens Village underscored a citywide need for action.
Reach reporter Phil Corso by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4573.