Bullying is on the Rise in NYC; Here's How Parents Can Fight Back

Howard Raphaelson
Partner, Attorney
Manhattan skyline

A recent study reports that bullying in New York City Schools has increased 10% over the past year. Parents can fight back by knowing their legal rights and what actions they can take to help stop school bullying.

Not too long ago, a 17-year-old Manhattan high school student committed suicide by stepping in front of an oncoming subway train. Other students reported that she was tired of being bullied at school. Tired of being called “stupid, ugly, or awkward.”

Instead of dealing with the issue head-on, school officials told students not to discuss the dead girl. According to one student, they were told: “not to talk about her or what happened.” Some students said they actually felt guilty about the way they had treated her.

In another case, New York City School officials agreed to transfer a 10-year-old student to a new school after he told his mother he was going to kill himself. The child had come home with a bloody nose and black eye after being repeatedly bullied by other students.

It is an elementary school and already rife with bullies.These are just two incidents among thousands that happen every year in the New York City school system. Sadly, the situation is only getting worse.

Study: 81 Percent of Students Believe Peers Have Been Harassed, Bullied or Intimidated

New York City schools have a bully problem. In August, the New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE) published the results of a recent study showing that bullying incidents increased by 10 percent over those that were reported for the previous school year.

The survey was based on 11 questions about the school experience, in general, asked of students between grades 6 and 12. Question eight asked students to rate how often they thought students were bullied at their school based on various factors.

The responses for the school year 2016 to 2017 indicated that 81 percent of students believed that students had been bullied between rarely or most of the time. For the previous school year, only 71 percent of students expressed this belief. The sampling size was approximately the same for both years.

The DOE argued that the surveys from the two years cannot be compared because the questions asked were not identical. Further, arguing that while the questions asked are identical from year to year, the percentage of students who respond that they feel safe at school has stayed the same.

Even so, 65 percent of the students responded to the 2017 survey by saying that kids bullied each other at school because of:

  • Race
  • Religion
  • Ethnicity
  • National origin
  • Citizenship or immigration status

For the previous school year, only 55 percent of students reported they thought students were bullied on these grounds, but the only choices were based on race or ethnicity. The other choices included in the 2017 survey were not included in the survey for 2016.

This year, 73 percent of students said kids were bullied over things like their weight or disability. Although in 2016, only 46 percent of students said kids are bullied for those reasons, weight and disability were included with other choices and not as stand-alone reasons.

In 2016, 46 percent reported bullying due to their gender, gender identity, gender expression, or sexual identity, that percentage increased in 2017 to 59 percent of the students.

Unfortunately, bullying is not going away. If your child is being bullied at school, there are some steps you can take.

Parents Rights Against Bullying in NYC Schools

The NYCDOE publishes a student/parent guide for reporting bullying incidents to authorities. It informs students and parents of the main steps to take which include:

  • Ask your child to provide details about any bullying event, including how many times it has happened, what he or she does about it and if the child is worried about it happening again
  • Contact your child’s teacher or principal.
  • Every school in New York State is required to have a “dignity act coordinator” who is trained to handle bullying issues. Contact that person.

For more information about New York's Anti-Bullying laws, visit stopbullying.gov

Taking Legal Action Against Bullying in Schools

Your child is entitled to attend school in an environment where he or she feels safe, free from the bullying by other children.

If the school officials who are charged with providing a safe learning environment are negligent in their duty and your child suffers damages, either physically or emotionally as a result of the negligence, you may need to take legal action.

In serious situations where school negligence or deliberate indifference leads to a serious injury, filing a personal injury lawsuit against a school district may be a legal option.

However, several criteria must be met under New York law, including:

  • Notice to School Officials: The school must have been given notice of the bullying behavior. Liability is based on conduct that school officials "know or should know" is occurring. If the school is not aware of the bullying, it can use this as a defense.
  • Failure to Intervene: The school's liability would be based on failing to adequately intervene to stop or prevent bullying.
  • Impact on the Victim: The nature of the bullying conduct and its impact on the victim are important. Physical harm strengthens the case, but evidence of psychological harm like depression or declining grades can also be used.
  • Legal Basis: A lawsuit can be filed under federal and state discrimination and harassment laws if the victim is a member of a protected class. For example, Title IX could be used if the bullying is based on sex, or the Americans With Disabilities Act if it's based on a disability. A lawsuit may also be based on common-law torts like negligent or intentional infliction of emotional distress, or failure to supervise.
  • Sovereign Immunity: Parents must often overcome the sovereign immunity of government entities, which shields them from lawsuits. Formal written notice must usually be served on the public entity, often the school district, prior to filing a lawsuit.
  • State Anti-Bullying Laws and School Policies: A thorough understanding of state laws like New York State’s Dignity for All Students Act (The Dignity Act) and school policies is necessary to determine what constitutes impermissible conduct and the procedures the school was required to follow.

Bullying cases can be very complex and require effective navigation of various procedural and substantive hurdles.

If your child has suffered a serious injury after the school's Respect for All (RFA) liaison(s) and/or administration had been notified of the bullying, and you believe your claim meets the above criteria, our attorneys may be able to assist in securing a safer, brighter future for your child.

To learn more about the procedures for filing complaints of bullying or harassment and the DOE policy:

Howard Raphaelson
Partner, Attorney
Howard A. Raphaelson founded Raphaelson & Levine Law Firm, P.C. in 1992 after graduating from the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York City, NY. With over thirty years of experience as a personal injury lawyer, he has earned a trusted reputation from his peers, judges, and top leaders, including recognition among the top 5% injury attorneys as a “Super Lawyer” (Thomson Reuters) and “New York’s Best Lawyers” (New York Magazine).

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