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Acting Nassau DA: Implementation of Anti-Bullying Dignity Act Has Failed

July 4, 2015

Acting Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas expressed skepticism Friday about the numbers in a new report on bullying.

As WCBS 880’s Sophia Hall reported, Singas believes the trend of kids bullying other kids is a big problem. She said the Dignity Act requires school districts to report those who have been bullied.

But she said a new study shows 58 percent of all schools statewide have failed to report even one incident, and 82 percent found no incidents at all of cyberbullying.

“If a school administrator told me that there was not a single noteworthy incident — I’d be thrilled, but skeptical,” Singas said after her office reviewed compliance with the 2010 Dignity for All Students Act. “I concluded that there are serious problems.”

She called the implementation of the law a disaster.

“The fact that these numbers do not reflect the reality of what’s going on in our schools is troubling to me,” Singas said.

The prosecutor said a review of 2013-14 data from the state Education Department found that 2,287 schools reported one or more incidents of harassment or discrimination, while 2,418 reported none. Statewide, 832 schools reported one or more cyberbullying incidents and 3,874 reported none.

“To believe that so few districts have experienced these types of incidents would be foolish,” said Sen. Carl Marcellino, chairman of the state Senate Education Committee. “No law is perfect and the Education Committee will examine potential changes.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has ordered the Education Department to conduct a three-week review of compliance with the Dignity Act following a report last week by the New York Civil Liberties Union that found transgender students, in particular, are often harassed in New York public schools. The Long Island prosecutor reviewed statistics on harassment involving all students.

“We recognize the urgency of this situation, and we also recognize the need to get this right. That’s why the department is working closely with advocacy groups and school districts across the state. We must keep every child safe,” said Dennis Tompkins, an Education Department spokesman.

Singas noted that every school is required under the Dignity Act to appoint a coordinator to oversee implementation of the law, but she said many schools fail to make contact information on the coordinators readily available to parents and students who may need their assistance.

She also said some school officials might fear the negative repercussions if their district is reporting too many incidents and the stigma that goes along with being designated as a “persistently dangerous school.” Also, administrators, teachers and staff view incident reporting as an “onerous administrative burden that compromises the more important work of working with students to address the underlying problems,” Singas said.

David Kilmnick, chief executive of the Long Island LGBT Network, agreed that many school administrators feel if they actually log the incidents it will make them look bad. “Bullying takes place in every school, unfortunately,” Kilmnick said. “It is what is done about it that determines whether or not we are truly addressing the bullying head on that will reduce and eliminate it.”