At first blush, the numbers suggest that bullying in New York's public schools isn't all that bad.
The problem is, these numbers don't withstand the most elemental level of scrutiny. Not by a long shot.
Where Do the Numbers Come From?
The Dignity for All Students Act, also known by its shorthand name, "DASA," which became the law in New York back in 2010 with an effective date of 2012, was passed in response to what has been widely recognized as a nationwide epidemic: bullying, and its increasingly powerful cousin, cyberbullying.
DASA required (and requires), among other things, New York's public schools to do the following:
- Adopt and/or revise codes of conduct and policies to create a harassment/bullying-free environment for students;
- Ensure guidelines and training programs are designed to heighten awareness and sensitivity to bullying-related issues; and,
- Designate at least one (1) staff member per school for non-discrimination training
In addition - and importantly - New York's public schools were - and are - required to submit bullying incidents to the electronic Violent and Disruptive Incident Reporting database, a/k/a "VADIR."
How "Bullying" is Defined Under New York Law
Section 11 of New York's Education Law defines bullying, in pertinent part, as follows:
7. "Harassment" and "bullying" shall mean the creation of a hostile environment by conduct or by threats, intimidation or abuse, including cyberbullying that ... reasonably causes or would reasonably be expected to cause a student to fear for his or her physical safety ... or emotional harm ... [even if it] occurs off school property ... where it is foreseeable that the conduct, threats, intimidation or abuse might reach school property."
The Statistics that Led New York's Legislature to Act
In 2009, just one year before DASA's passage, nearly 1/3 of students between the ages of 12 and 18 reported being bullied at school.
That's more than 7 million students who reported being bullied at school.
Of that third, roughly 18% reported that they were bullied on school property.
And here's one very sad statistic: prior to the enactment of DASA, only 20% of New York's public schools had a comprehensive any-bullying policy.
What New York's Public Schools Reported - and Why Their Reports Are Frightening
For the 2013-2014 school year, 40% of New York State's public schools reported zero (that's right - 0) bullying incidents; 81% of those schools reported 10 or fewer bullying incidents.
During the same time period, 70% of New York City's public schools reported zero (0) bullying incidents; and 98% of New York City's public schools reported 10 or fewer bullying incidents.
When you compare and contrast the numbers reported by New York's public schools to the numbers that were reported leading up to the enactment of DASA, the following conclusions are inescapable:
Unless the schools have adopted a definition of bullying that means, effectively, "No autopsy, no bullying," they are grossly underreporting the bullying that is taking place on their collective watch.
Or, to put it more bluntly: New York's schools are lying when it comes to their VADIR reporting.
And, since there does not appear to be any consequence for their doing so, the chances for the students experiencing any measure of improvement on account of DASA may be nothing more than a pipe dream.