The Department of Education today released a summary of bias-based harassment reports in New York City schools for the 2008-2009 school year. The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF), Coalition for Asian American Children and Families (CACF), Make the Road NY, New York Association for Gender Rights Advocacy (NYAGRA), the New York City Bar Association LGBT Committee, the New York Civil Liberties Union and the Sikh Coalition released the following statement in response to the summary.

“The Department of Education’s data release is an important step in the effort to address bias-based harassment and bullying in New York City’s public schools and to fully implement the 2004 Dignity for All Schools Act. We applaud the DOE’s continuing effort, yet today’s release highlights several areas where the DOE can and must do more to improve transparency surrounding the problem of bigotry in schools.

The data released today comes as the school year is more than half-way over. Releasing the data so late in the year prevents both advocates and school communities from adequately addressing problems early so that all students can have safe and successful school year. Further, the data lacks any geographic specificity. Including district- or borough-specific data would allow educators, parents, advocates and community leaders to see where bias-based harassment is most prevalent and target resources in those communities. Harassment in schools based on a student’s race or ethnicity, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, disability, sex, and gender identity and expression is an urgent issue, but we cannot effectively address it unless we know the breadth, scope and location of the problem as early as possible.

Our organizations also remain concerned that the Chancellor’s Regulation on bullying and bias-based harassment (A-832) – introduced a full 16 months ago – does not require regular reporting on this issue. While we commend the DOE for finally releasing this report, our communities should not have to rely on promises that data is forthcoming. Regular public reporting must be mandated in the Chancellor’s Regulation to ensure that future data is released in a regular and timely fashion.

Finally, our concern over bullying and bias-based harassment stems from our concern for our kids. Schools should be a welcoming and warm place for all children. No child should ever have to be afraid to go to school. Our concern and commitment to children extends across the board. Youth who have bullied or harassed other students must themselves receive education and counseling services. Overly punitive measures like suspension and expulsion do little to get to the heart of the problem and do nothing to teach students about the diversity of their fellow classmates. Future reports from the DOE should include specific information about the discipline and intervention methods used in each case of harassment. The Chancellor’s Regulation requires comprehensive training and education for all students that would address the issue before bullying happens. We call for holistic solutions to bullying and bias-based harassment that include preventative education, training and public reporting.”