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Tackling bullying at state, county, school levels

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While classes are out of session for the summer, state and county officials have taken aim at bullying, an issue that affects 20 percent of students nationwide, according to a 2016 study by the National Center for Education Statistics.

In June, the New York State Board of Regents amended a Dignity for All Students Act reporting requirement to include language specifically aimed at addressing the bullying of transgender and gender-nonconforming students. The amended measure states that the principal must be told if a student is kept from using school facilities — including bathrooms and locker rooms — based on their “actual or perceived” gender, including gender identity.

Separately, the Nassau County Legislature passed a resolution on July 9 establishing a dedicated anti-bullying website, described by the legislation’s author, Legislator Josh Lafazan — who represents district 18 on the North Shore and is unaffiliated with any party — as a “clearinghouse” of information for the county’s students and parents on the harm that bullying can cause, and how to stop it.

“Bullying affects people’s mental health,” said Kyle Rose-Lauder, the deputy county executive for health and human services, who worked with Lafazan on the resolution. She said that in many cases both the bully and the victim need access to mental health resources, for separate reasons.

Dr. Sharon Harris, the executive director of the Substance Abuse Free Environment Glen Cove Coalition, said that bullying is most common in middle school, and that “students who bully their classmates are more likely to use cigarettes, alcohol and marijuana,” when they get older. She added, “there is not as strong a correlation between bullying victims and substance use.”

The Dignity for All Students Act, or DASA, is a state law that was enacted in 2012. It requires schools to include anti-bullying measures in their codes of conduct and that they gather data on bullying incidents. The county’s new website — NassauStopBullying.org, set to launch before the school year begins — will list each school’s DASA coordinator, a single faculty member who ensures that the state law is implemented at the school level. Lafazan said that the measure was in response to reports from parents around the county that they didn’t know who their school’s DASA coordinator was.

The names of Glen Cove School District’s DASA coordinators — there is one for each school — are not currently posted on the district’s website, although phone numbers where they can be reached are.

Superintendent Dr. Maria Rianna said that a school’s DASA coordinator is usually the principal or an assistant principal, and that the district has several ways to report bullying incidents, including emailing any faculty member.

Rianna stressed that all faculty, including maintenance staff, lunch monitors, and parent volunteers are trained in how to handle bullying and harassment complaints.

According to DASA-mandated incident reporting data made available by the New York State Education Department, in 2017, Glen Cove’s schools reported 11 incidents of bullying, compared to a statewide average of 42, and a county-wide average of 16 incidents per school district.

In 2013, a year after DASA was first implemented, Glen Cove reported nearly three times as many incidents as it did in 2017. Rianna attributed the reduction to two factors: First, the success of several approaches that were instituted during her tenure — including positive reinforcement in addition to discipline, and a crackdown on free-time in the hallways.

Second, Rianna noted that DASA coordinators have developed a better understanding of which incidents need to be reported to the state — only those that are part of sustained and pervasive patterns of ongoing bullying, she said. She noted that even if an incident doesn’t qualify under DASA’s reporting requirements, there were several ways that school officials could intervene.

A spokeswoman from the state’s Department of Education said that the department is exploring ways to make the DASA’s reporting requirements more actionable. A “Safe Schools Task Force Workgroup on Data Use and Reporting” had, prior to the 2017-2018 school year, amended some definitions in DASA’s requirements, “to make reporting less complicated and to [emphasize] accurately identifying violent incidents to facilitate accurate reporting.”