The families of 11 NYC public school students and a powerful pro-charter school advocacy group are suing the Department of Education, claiming that the City is failing to protect public school students from violent bullying and harassment from teachers and fellow students.
One parent is alleging that her seven-year-old son was dragged down a flight of stairs by a teacher who remained at the school for three years after the incident without punishment. Another says that her eight-year-old son was punched and kicked by two classmates, and that the school failed to discipline the bullies. "Since I went in and spoke to the administration nothing has changed," said the eight-year-old's mother in a video testimonial. "If schools aren't accountable, who is?"
Families For Excellent Schools, the pro-charter advocacy group named in the suit, has a history of taking jabs at Mayor de Blasio and the public school system, often making the case that black and Hispanic students bear the brunt of perceived dysfunction in public schools.
The group released a report in February alleging a spike in school violence under de Blasio's tenure, and a controversial pro-charter TV ad released last fall suggests that public schools stack the cards against minority students.
This week's suit charges that minority students are disproportionately victimized by school bullies, and that the violence has reached "epidemic" proportions—four NYC public school students were found bringing a gun to school over three weeks this spring and, according to New York State data, complaints of violent episodes in NYC schools increased 23% last school year.
The Dignity for All Students Act of 2010 mandates that all public schools implement anti-harassment codes of conduct, hire staff to address bullying, and report all incidents to the DOE. "DOE has violated its own regulations by routinely failing to report, investigate, and remedy allegations of violence and harassment," said the plaintiffs in a release.
The City has countered that its own statistics show a decrease in violent incidents—a 14.29% drop in felony crimes in schools this year to date, and a 6.77% drop in less serious crimes. The NY Times points out that the City's statistics account for incidents with NYPD involvement, while the State statistics come straight from school administrators, and might include incidents that were never reported to the police.
A task force has been assigned to revise the State's system, which currently records incidents without verifying them.
Success Academy, one of NYC's largest charter school networks, is closely aligned with Families for Excellent Schools and has recently accused the New York Times of unfairly singling it out, reporting on its allegedly discriminatory suspension tactics and harsh disciplinary approach. The network did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the suit.
"This lawsuit is nothing but a political ploy,” said Zakiya Ansari, advocacy director for the teachers' union-aligned Alliance for Quality Education, in a statement to Buzzfeed. "[FES] doesn't care about our public schools, and it’s shameful that they have decided to perpetuate the false narrative that our black and Latino children are violent."
"We absolutely have more work to do, but school safety is showing us consistently that they can and will continue to drive down crime in the schools, and keep all students and staff safe," said Mayor de Blasio in a statement regarding the suit.
DOE Chancellor Carmen Fariña said the department is taking the allegations seriously and following the lawsuit process in a timely fashion.