suit up

New York City schools agree to bullying reforms in wake of lawsuit

PHOTO: Google Maps
A student accused of stabbing and killing a classmate in 2017 at Urban Assembly for Wildlife Conservation in the Bronx said he was the victim of bullying. The school, which has since been closed, shared a building with P.S. 67.

A legal settlement calling on the education department to do more to address bullying in schools was approved this week by a judge, despite objections from advocates.

The settlement was announced in March, but the Legal Aid Society challenged the agreement. Lawyers for the public interest firm argued that the settlement called on the education department to implement reforms that were already required by law or under the city’s own rules, and that the agreement did not address “the underlying causes of bullying, including trauma and mental health issues.”

The city had already moved forward with many of the requirements of the settlement, such as allowing bullying victims to transfer schools and creating an online system to report bullying complaints, after a fatal stabbing at a school in the Bronx in 2017.

Shortly after the stabbing, Chalkbeat reported the city would implement a suite of programs to address bullying:

The $8 million package of programs includes a new online tool for families to reporting bullying incidents, anti-bullying training for students and school staff members, and funding for student-support clubs such as those for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students. In addition, the department will begin allowing bullying victims to request school transfers, will require schools to come up with individual plans for dealing with students who bully others, and will provide extra training and support to the 300 schools with the highest bullying rates.

The class action suit was originally filed in April 2016 by a group of 23 families who alleged that the education department was not addressing bullying concerns. The settlement was approved on Monday.

This settlement finally brings relief to children and parents suffering the dangerous consequences of school bullying, and mandates meaningful reform,” Jim Walden, an attorney representing the parents, said in an emailed statement.

In an email, education department spokesman Miranda Barbot said the city is focused on improving school climate and that every bullying allegation is treated seriously.

“We recognize the impact that bullying can have on the wellbeing of young people, and are committed to fostering school environments that are safe and supportive for a‎ll students,” she wrote.

You can read the settlement below. 


Activist Art

This Brooklyn middle school student hopes her winning T-shirt design will inspire racial justice

PHOTO: Reema Amin/Chalkbeat
Emma Pichardo, a student at Brooklyn middle school, holds up her winning design for a Black Lives Matter t-shirt contest.

Eighth grader Emma Pichardo, a student at M.S. 50 in Brooklyn, didn’t know what the Black Lives Matter movement really was until a teacher showed her a documentary about 17-year-old Trayvon Martin last year.

Six years ago, Floridian George Zimmerman fatally shot Martin, his neighbor, as the unarmed teenager was walking home. Zimmerman, who is white and was a neighborhood watch volunteer at the time, was widely thought to have racially profiled Martin.

The documentary was the backdrop to Emma’s decision to participate in a local T-shirt designing contest, open to all New York City students, for the national Black Lives Matter Week of Action. The event encourages teachers and students to engage with the 13 principles of the social justice movement born from incidents of black men and women having fatal encounters with white police officers.

Those 13 principles are diversity, restorative justice, globalism, queer affirming, unapologetically black, collective value, empathy, loving engagement, transgender affirming, black villages, black women, black families, and intergenerational.

The local contest is largely organized by city public school teachers, and the winning T-shirt design is sold online.

Emma’s design last year — a silhouette of a black woman, surrounded by bright splotches of colors and the words “Black Lives Matter — didn’t win. So she tried again this year, with a slightly different approach: an all black-and-white design with the same silhouette in the center, surrounded by the 13 principles.

Last week, local organizers cast the most votes for Emma’s design among a total eight submissions. It was notable that Emma won, said her art teacher, Brittany Kaiser, who provided feedback as Emma worked. Her teacher encourages students to enter these contests but has found with high-school participants, it’s tougher for middle-schoolers to come out on top.

Emma wanted the winning design — now on a T-shirt for sale online — “to show people that we should all have the same rights.” She hoped people would see it and find a positive outlet for their anger, sort of like she did.

The key part of the silhouette, she says, is its large afro.

“I want black women to see themselves for what they are and not what the social media shows them, because a lot of women are going through that phase that, like, they see women in social media and they want to be that type of person,” Emma said. “I want them to be themselves and be confident about their body shapes and their features and all that.”

Emma’s designs, according to Principal Benjamin Honoroff, are part of the school’s larger culture of connecting art to social justice. One example of that is an elective activist arts course that’s open to students.

Parents and staff have been supportive of the culture, Honoroff said. When the school’s Twitter account tweeted about Emma’s winning design, there were a few responses, almost all positive. But one user replied, “Shouldn’t we be teaching ALL LIVES MATTER?” — a reference to the slogan created in backlash to the Black Lives Matter movement.

Honoroff and Kaiser said they haven’t received any complaints about the contest.

“If I did, I would explain that most students are already aware of Black Lives Matter as a current event — it’s in the news, it’s a current event, it’s a social movement — and bringing issues of racial justice into the classroom acknowledges and affirms students identifies and also engages them in critical conversation about the world around them, and I think that engagement is always beneficial to students,” Kaiser said.

For Emma, the contest is one step down a career path she hopes to follow. She has auditioned for elite LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts and wants to make a career out of visual art — painting and sketching for now and maybe dabbling in photography.

I want my art to have the power to change people’s mindsets,” Emma said.

Student Voice

Want to improve schools? Chicago students have messages for the city’s next mayor

Money for arts programs.

A Spanish teacher at the start of school — not midway through the semester.

More paper.

More teachers.

Free public transit for students — all year long.

Ask students to list the education priorities for Chicago’s next mayor, and many of them will start in one place: more funding for their schools.

But they have plenty of other ideas, too, on ways that City Hall could work to improve conditions on the ground at the district’s 600-plus schools, from free public transportation to and from school to solutions to teacher shortages.

In advance of a December public forum we hosted on the topic of the mayor’s race and the future of schools, Chalkbeat spent a day talking to the people affected most by the politics of education: Chicago students. To hear more of what they said, watch this video, filmed on location at the Mikva Challenge 2018 Project Soapbox competition and produced by Chalkbeat reporter Yana Kunichoff and Scrappers Film Group.