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In an Age of Taunting Tweets, a New Initiative to Combat Bullying

Wednesday, October 19, 2011 - 02:48 PM

Students who are victims of harassment and intimidation by their peers now have access to a telephone hotline to professional counselors.

The new hotline is part of a wider initiative called BRAVE (Building Respect, Acceptance, and Voice through Education), announced Wednesday by the United Federation of Teachers with support from the Mental Health Association of New York City. It will connect students with clinicians and mental health professionals who can provide supportive listening, crisis intervention, suicide risk assessments and advice on crisis de-escalation.

Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers, said bullying has a direct impact on a child's education and ability to achieve, while also instilling fear and humiliation.

"What that does to an individual child and the effect that has on them for the rest of their life is something we don't want any single child ever to have to deal with again," said Mr. Mulgrew. "That's our goal."

Mr. Mulgrew spoke at a news conference at City Hall, where he was joined by supportive city council members, Schools Chancellor Dennis M. Walcott, elected officials and the district attorneys from Staten Island and Manhattan.

The officials said bullying is a pervasive issue across the system, ranging from schoolyard taunts to harassing tweets and texts.

"When we're out in the evenings speaking with parents, this is the issue," said Mr. Mulgrew. "This is always the issue that comes up."

The hotline provides children with support after the school day is over. It will be staffed from 2:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, by professionals from the Mental Health Association of New York City. Students can call for services in English, Spanish, Mandarin, Cantonese and other languages, translated immediately.

The union is providing a grant of more than $50,000 to pay for the first year of the initiative, which also includes workshops for parents and school staff to help schools build on their own anti-bullying programs. The U.F.T plans to expand the hotline services in January for students to connect through text messaging and online chat.

The phone number for the hotline is 212-709-3222.

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