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Monday, July 16, 2012

NYC Must Pay for Private School for Bullied Child; Will DOE Finally Act vs. Bullying?

In public schools the New York City Department of Education (DOE) posts hypocritical, toothless posters against bullying.
These posters are hollow statements. What really matters is that principals and assistant principals stonewall against disciplining students. Reasons: (1) Principals do not want "bad statistics," the reputation of leading an "unsafe school;" (2) Principals are afraid of getting on the wrong side of the parents of the miscreants. Further aiding the last point is case law, such as the Supreme Court decision in Goss v. Lopez (419 U.S. 565) (1975), as I wrote in a February 7, 2011 blog post.

A very important film was released this spring, "Bully" (here is the film's official site), a documentary on bullying in American schools. It showed pervasive, systemic bullying, under the eye of administrators. The bullying in the movie happened in various parts across America, rural and urban. The common feature was that administrators failed to act promptly. The scandalous neglect depicted in the film, which is suspected to lead to suicides each year, should have spurred action. (Truth be told, hard statistics on links to the number of suicides are hard to come by, as noted here. Researchers have claimed that bullying victims are 2 to 9 times more likely to commit suicide than non-bully victims.) It has not happened. Now we have the spectre of millions extra spent for private school because administrators failed to act.
And, so the daily reality is that as a parent, you are taking a gamble sending your child to school, because of the unaddressed school harassment and violence problem. Affluent upper middle class schools are not immune from bullying kids, as administrators there too can be so slow to act against predator students. Such is the case at posh P.S. 6, with a free lunch population of just 9.7 percent, at 45 East 81st Street, on the Upper East Side, between Madison Avenue and Park Avenue, just a block from Central Park and the Metropolitan Museum. Yes, Virginia, there is a public school at Million Mile, between Park and Fifth Avenues.
Susan Edelman in the New York Post reported yesterday (July 15, 2012), "Taxpayers must pay for private school -- because 12-year-old was bullied," a court found that school officials failed to act against school bullies. The bullying was so bad, that parents of the child in question felt compelled to take their child to a private school. The court decided that the city must pony up the $40,000 a year to pay for the child's education.
The Post reporter noted the opinion of an education expert that said that the court decision has potentially huge financial ramifications, as the case could set the precedent for hundreds of other parents that want to move their children from a public school to a private school for safety reasons.
In the article below, the principal tried to shift the blame to school aides, who she said did nothing during incidents cited in the case. But, as wrong as that inaction was, do not forget that this is in a bureaucratic culture in which if a staff member reports harassment or violence to a supervisor, action is not taken against perpetrators, but against teachers and staff for "poor classroom management."
Will the threat of the City having to pay millions for private school costs finally spur the city to scuttle its de facto policy against administrators' following through on squashing active, repeated bullying threats, attacks and other harassment?
Edelman's story in the Post, July 15, 2012:
Schools that fail to stop bullying may soon give taxpayers a financial beating. A New York judge has ruled that a 12-year-old girl who was tormented at highly rated PS 6 on the Upper East Side may have been deprived of her educational rights — and the city could be on the hook for her $40,000 annual tuition at a private school. The landmark ruling, if upheld, could be “fiscally disastrous” for the city, one expert said, noting it opens the door to millions in claims from special-ed and even nondisabled students who want to go to private school because they are bullied.
The precedent-setting case centers on a learning-disabled girl who suffered constant abuse from classmates. They laughed when she raised her hand and refused to touch pens or paper she had handled. They also handed her a crude drawing of her that they marked with words like “ugly” and “smely.” THOUSANDS OF LEARNING-DISABLED STUDENTS GET REIMBURSED FOR PRIVATE SCHOOL They pushed and tripped her “for fun.” One kid chased the girl with ketchup, telling her it was blood.
But PS 6 Principal Lauren Fontana, told of such incidents by classroom aides, allegedly did nothing — and refused to discuss the bullying with the girl’s parents. They finally put their distraught daughter in the Summit School in Queens, a state-approved private school. [Summit School is 14 miles away in Fresh Meadows, Queens.]
The parents have demanded that the city Department of Education pay them $40,000 for the girl’s year at Summit before the family moved to another school district in the state.
Notice this clincher about the precedent-setting ramifications of this case for other claims of unaddressed persistent bullying and administrator inaction:
The DOE reimburses about $235 million a year in private-school tuition to parents who prove public schools did not adequately serve their kids with disabilities — but never before because of bullying.
The ruling by Brooklyn federal Judge Jack Weinstein paves the way for payment in such cases.
“When a school fails to take reasonable steps to prevent such objectionable harassment of a student, it has denied her an educational benefit protected by statute,” he wrote.
Weinstein has sent the case back to a DOE hearing officer to find whether bullying occurred and what, if anything, was done about it before he decides on the payment. The precedent could cost the city millions. About 200,000 of the city’s 1.1 million public-school kids get special-ed services.
“Most special-ed students are bullied in school. They make up the biggest percentage of bullying victims in the US,” said Parry Aftab, a lawyer and national bullying expert.
Weinstein’s ruling could also open the floodgates beyond special ed, Aftab said. “Schools can be liable for not addressing bullying or cyberbullying for all students, and parents can sue for money damages,” she said.
In the Weinstein case, the girl, identified as “L.K.,” was originally diagnosed with autism. During the 2007-08 school year at PS 6 — where affluent Upper East Side parents raise hundreds of thousands of dollars a year for extras — she was put in a team-teaching classroom that mixed learning-disabled students with those who were not.
She was given a one-on-one teacher’s aide, along with speech, occupational and physical therapy.
But aides described the classroom as a "hostile environment" in which the girl endured "a great deal of teasing."
Fontana repeatedly rebuffed requests by the girl's parents to discuss the bullying -- and once called security when they refused to leave after bringing their daughter to the office to talk about it.
The city insists the girl received a “free and appropriate public education,” the legal standard and vows to fight the parents’ push for payment.
“The DOE takes claims of bullying extremely seriously and works hard to make each school a safe and positive learning environment,” assistant city attorney John Buhta said in a statement to The Post.
Again, will the threat of the City having to pay millions for private school costs finally spur the city to scuttle its de facto policy against administrators' following through on squashing active, repeated bullying threats, attacks and other harassment?

1 comment:

  1. If the DOE really took bullying seriously, they would replace this principal. That said, most principals and school leaders (public and private) will not institute zero tolerance policies against bullying. My own child was a student of a well rated public school where she was horribly bullied for two years. The principal's response was that "kids are kids". However, moving a child to the private school sector is often not the answer as bullying happens just as much there with similar responses. I moved my child to a private school and other children were bullied ...just in more sophisticated ways. In the public school, my child was bullied with teasing and pushing--in the private school my child attended her classmate was victimized by three other children who made a video of her that was extremely unflattering.

    zero tolerance policy--that is the answer.


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