The Department of Education does not effectively record and track public school incidents of bias harassment and bullying, according to an audit released today by City Comptroller and mayoral hopeful, John Liu.
Schools are supposed to have all complaints of bias bullying recorded in a D.O.E. online database. Bias bullying includes incidents of bullying based on a person's race, creed, nationality, sexual orientation or body type. The agency’s system, however, was never updated and could not keep up with reported incidents, the audit found. Instead, staffers sifted through thousands of bias reports by hand.
“The D.O.E. needs to show parents, students and educators that it takes bullying seriously,” Liu said in a news release. “DOE cannot combat bullying and protect students from bias harassment when its own tracking system is blind to it.”
The D.O.E. is mandated to record and provide annual statistics on discriminatory harassment and bullying under the 2008 Chancellors Regulation. The tracking requirements are further detailed under the Dignity for All Students Act which Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed into law last year.
Auditors looked at 40 bias-bullying reports sent to the D.O.E. by three schools: Murry Bergtraum High School, J.H.S. 22 Jordan L. Mott, and P.S. 290 Juan Morel Campos during the 2009-2010 school year. They found that the schools complied with some key aspects of the 2008 regulation, but lacked uniformity and consistency in how they treated complaints.
Because of the DOE’s outdated system, it could not determine how many of the recorded 8,298 incidents in 2009-2010 violated the Chancellor’s regulation and required more handling, the audit found. The sorting system also did not differentiate between student-to-student harassment and student-to-staff harassment.
Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said the audit’s findings highlighted that educators were not receiving adequate training of their obligations under the Dignity Act.
“The training has to include comprehensive information on how we create a school culture that is free of bias and how you would address incidents that occur without always rushing to push kids out of school,” Lieberman said.
In response to the audit, the education department said it made significant modifications to its reporting system last year, accompanied by training, guidance, and support around the Dignity Act.
“The Department of Education is committed to maintaining a safe and supportive educational environment for all students that is free from harassment, intimidation and bullying committed by students against other students,” Marge Feinberg, a DOE spokesperson, said in a statement. “We are ahead of major school districts throughout the country on this issue.”
The DOE says it also responded to the audit recommendations, which included modifying the reporting system, ensuring that school principals understand what is required of them, and enhancing oversight of the school-reporting process.