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Eleven New York City public-school students and their parents have filed a proposed class-action lawsuit claiming that the city’s Department of Education (DOE) fails to address and reduce in-school violence, The New York Times reports.
The proposed class-action was the first to address in-school violence in the state’s history, according to a press release from Families for Excellent Schools, another plaintiff in the suit.
The complaint alleges that New York City’s public schools, the largest school district in the nation, fail to adequately protect students from violence, and that black and Hispanic students as well as LGBT students are far more likely to be victims of in-school violence than their peers.
The suit also claims that city’s Education Department perpetuates a system “characterized by chronic and deliberate indifference to the pervasive violence, intimidation and harassment experienced by their students.”
Moreover, the suit claims, there is a “‘blame the victim’ mentality, which often results in de facto punishment of, or retaliation against, the victims.”
A representative for the DOE’s chancellor, Carmen Fariña, who is also a named defendant in the suit, provided this comment from her:
I can assure parents that this is something we take seriously and anytime something comes up, we deal with it immediately. Lawsuits have a process to follow and we will follow that process. I do believe we follow all the processes in a very timely fashion.
The 11 students, whose ages range from 7 to 14, have their identities protected in the suit, though the complaint included examples of the types of violence they claim to be the victims of.
John Doe No. 2 (JD2) is an 8-year-old who claims that he was bullied, harassed, and physically harmed by classmates. His parent claims that teachers and administrators knew of the bullying but didn’t do anything to stop it.
The bullying caused him to have nightmares and anxiety, and “his desperation reached its peak on or about December 16, 2015, when he stabbed himself in the ear,” according to the suit.
JD2’s parent also discovered bruising on his leg that the family claims was a result of physical violence from his bully. JD2 was taken to an emergency room in the city to receive medical treatment, but the school did not take any investigative actions, according to the complaint.
John Doe No. 3 (JD3) is a 9-year-old student who claims that he was thrown down the stairs by his teacher. The teacher initially said that he did not have any physical contact with JD3, and that he was fabricating the incident, according to the suit.
But at a later meeting, the teacher said, “I had him by the shirt and he tripped down the stairs,” according to the complaint.
JD3 saw a psychiatrist relating to the alleged abuse and then diagnosed him with post-traumatic stress disorder, which he still suffers from today, the suit claims.
In a statement, Mayor Bill de Blasio said:
I was a public school parent as recently as last June, and we never want to see a weapon in schools. I view each incidence as obviously troubling. However, when we look at the facts, school safety is doing a very good job continuing a trend that started in the last administration and continues – this year to date, the major crime in our schools is down 14.29 percent and other crimes down 6.77 percent. Each time there is a report on a weapon it’s because they have been confiscated and the student will receive consequences. 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.
The plaintiffs, who are not seeking monetary damages, are seeking a court injunction that requires the DOE to enforce procedures to keep students safe and investigate acts of violence in schools.