Updated April 19, 3:30 p.m.
Even after months of meetings, phone calls and paperwork, Glen Oaks parent Renee Di Re says she’s committed to seeing the city “fix” the way it reports bullying in its schools.
In her latest “Three Billboards”-style campaign, Di Re attached a self-made #Fix266 bumper sticker — in reference to her son’s school, P.S./I.S. 266 — to the back of her car. She also created a Facebook page, where she writes about her bullying concerns.
“That’s what I’ve got to drive around with,” Di Re told QNS while holding up a second copy of the bumper sticker. “Any time I do something the public sees is the only time I hear something.”
Di Re first spoke with QNS in May 2017. After her son faced months of bullying from peers, the then-8-year-old student made two suicide threats in the presence of faculty — youth counselor Felisa Fulton and principal Christina Catalano, respectively — on consecutive days in February.
The second incident was reported six weeks later; Di Re is unsure if the first was ever reported. These actions endangered her son’s life, the parent said.
According to the Schools Chancellor’s regulations, any staff member who witnesses or is provided with information regarding student-to-student discrimination, harassment, intimidation or bullying in the city’s schools must report the allegation within one school day and file a written report within two school days of the oral report.
“That’s why kids are committing suicide. That’s why all this trouble is going on, ” Di Re said. “Nobody’s following regulations and nobody’s holding teachers and staff accountable when they choose to ignore it.”
In the following months, the chancellor’s Office of Special Investigations conducted a probe into Di Re’s complaints. After filing FOIL requests for information on the results, the parent was sent a largely redacted document that contained information the agency found Catalano “acted in poor judgement” in the February incident. Allegations against Fulton were found to be “unsubstantiated,” according to another sparse document sent to Di Re.
Catalano has since been transferred to another school, where she serves as assistant principal, Di Re said. Fulton remains at the school.
Over one year later, the two administrators have not been held accountable for misreporting the incidents, according to father Anthony Di Re.
“When my son goes to the teacher and tells her he’s being bullied and they don’t do anything about it, that’s a problem,” Anthony Di Re said. “Everyone along the line dropped the ball.”
The Di Res are not the only public school family interested in effecting change. In March, the DOE was directed to overhaul its bullying protocols after settling a class-action lawsuit brought forth by parents who accused the agency of ignoring bullying complaints.
A report published by state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman in August suggested the DOE was under-reporting incidents of bullying in its schools. An audit published one year earlier by New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli reported the same.
Still, in 2017, Mayor Bill de Blasio and former Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña claimed the city saw the safest school year on record “in the history of New York City.”
Di Re is now urging the new schools chancellor, Richard A. Carranza, to hold faculty who do not follow regulations accountable and take bullying threats seriously.
“The communication from DOE to parent is terrible,” she said. “The new chancellor needs to know this is what he’s inheriting.”
Di Re is still reviewing her legal options. She plans to appeal her FOIL requests in an effort to acquire more information about the investigations.
“We treat all allegations of bullying with the utmost seriousness, and are investing $8 million in anti-bullying initiatives to address this issue head-on,” DOE spokesperson Miranda Barbot said in a statement. “There are robust systems in place to ensure all incidents are swiftly reported, investigated and addressed, and school staff are required to report.”