Seventy percent of New York City schools claim there were no incidents of bullying or harassment in their buildings in the 2013-2014 school year. If this sounds unrealistic, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman agrees with you. A report released yesterday by his office says the high numbers indicate “significant underreporting” of incidents of harassment and discrimination.
Schneiderman’s office pored through state data collected from 1,257 of the city’s 1,792 public and charter schools that year. Seventy percent of them reported zero instances in which a student was bullied, harassed or discriminated against while at school. Ninety-eight percent of those schools reported fewer than ten incidents. A Daily News analysis conducted in 2014 found that 80 percent of city schools claimed no bullying in their halls in 2012.
The low figures were also reflected statewide. Forty percent of schools across the state reported not a single incident of bullying and 81 percent reported fewer than 10, according to the report.
Schneiderman’s report relied on data collected from a survey meant to measure how well schools are meeting the requirements outlined under the Dignity for all Students Act of 2012, which mandates that schools annually report instances of bullying (including cyberbullying) and harassment to a public database.
“It’s vitally important that students feel comfortable coming forward with fears of discrimination or harassment in our schools, and equally important that schools honestly report their responses to these issues,” said Schneiderman in a release on the report. The report suggests that a misunderstanding of what constitutes harassment could be one reason for such widespread underreporting, and says more frequent training could help correct the problem.
Toya Holness, a spokesperson for the city Department of Education, said that the results rely on outdated data, and failed to recognize the city’s efforts to stamp out bullying. “Our schools are the safest they’ve ever been, and reporting incidents is not an option, it’s a requirement,” Holness told the Daily News. Incidents that do not meet the state’s definition of harassment, bullying or discrimination are still reported and addressed at the school level, though they aren’t reflected in the AG report.
Safety in city schools is improving, according to recently released data from the NYPD. Arrests are down over 50 percent; in 2010, over 3,000 students were arrested compared to 1,155 students last year. And eighty percent fewer summonses were handed out last year. Mayor Bill de Blasio has introduced a series of reforms to combat overly punitive disciplinary policies.
Still, the city has been regularly criticized for its handling of school violence, including bullying. In April, a group of parents backed by pro-charter school advocacy group Families for Excellent Schools filed a class-action lawsuit against the city DOE and chancellor Carmen Farina claiming that the department’s failure to address violence and bullying interferes with students’ ability to learn. The suit asked that an independent monitor be put in place to keep watch over the city’s efforts. The teachers union has been a vocal critic of Mayor de Blasio’s suspension policies, claiming they prevent teachers from maintaining order in the classroom, which could include removing bullies.