Legal Aid Challenges NYC Department of Education Proposed Settlement on Bullying Policy

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The Legal Aid Society filed objections in federal court to a proposed class action settlement in John Doe #1, et al. v. N.Y.C. Department of Education (DOE). The lawsuit seeks to address bullying in the public schools in New York City, but the settlement falls drastically short of what is truly needed.

“New York City’s children deserve a comprehensive plan to reduce school bullying and improve school climate,” said Cara Chambers, Director of the Kathryn A. McDonald Education Advocacy Project at The Legal Aid Society. “This settlement fails to provide necessary resources and does not address the underlying causes of bullying, including trauma and mental health issues. It’s a bad deal for New York City youth, and the court should reject the proposed settlement.”

The proposed settlement fails to incorporate the explicit recommendations of the City’s own Leadership Team on School Climate and Discipline calling for increased resources for all affected students and staff training designed to reduce bullying behaviors. Instead, it focuses primarily on mandating timely complaint notifications and investigation.

While a step in the right direction, it would not address or reduce the behaviors underlying bullying incidents, and it does not provide benchmarks to allow for effective monitoring of the settlement requirements. The proposed settlement offers limited benefit to students beyond what is already required by law or regulation. Instead, it insulates the DOE from future legal action demanding the implementation of necessary reforms to improve school culture, provide student supports and develop alternative methods to address conflict.

The Legal Aid Society, represented by Cooley LLP, filed the objections with a request to be heard at the fairness hearing on the proposed settlement before Judge Nicholas Garaufis on June 26, 2018.

The Legal Aid Society has significant experience in educational advocacy, having represented more than 250,000 school-aged children and youth over the past decade in its Juvenile, Civil, and Criminal Practices. These students, many of whom have trauma histories, are most likely to be involved in bullying incidents. The Legal Aid Society hopes to contribute its expertise and insight to a proposed settlement that comprehensively addresses the issue of bullying in New York City’s schools.