It can also cause trauma, as was the case with South Glens Falls middle school student Jacobe Taras, who took his own life in 2015 because of the bullying he experienced at school.
In 2012, New York’s Dignity for All Students Act went into effect and put in protections from discrimination for all students on any basis. One major component of discrimination under the act is bullying, defined as repeated aggressive behavior with an imbalance of power.
To ensure school districts address incidents of discrimination and bullying, the act requires schools to keep records describing what happened, categorizing the type of incident and developing a plan to eliminate similar behaviors in the future.
At the end of the year, these incidents are filed and a statewide report is published, documenting the number of cases in each school.
The Post-Star’s analysis of annual Dignity for All Students Act violations reports from districts in Warren, Washington and northern Saratoga counties found, on average, the number of incidents has declined since the law went into effect in the 2012-13 school year, according to the self-reported data.
Total number of DASA violations in each school district
|District||Total incidents 2012-13||2013-14||2014-15||2015-16||2016-17||2017-18|
|South Glens Falls||114||177||86||27||6||11|
To account for the large variations in school size, a rate of incidents in each district per thousand students was calculated, with Glens Falls City School District ranking highest at just over 29 incidents per year and South Glens Falls Central School District in second place with just under 22.5.
The reporting process is meant to make sure cases are documented and to give districts a quantitative estimate of the bullying happening in their schools. Principals and superintendents can analyze the data and look for trends.
For instance, if 80% of all bullying in a school revolves around gender identity, the district can invest in a more targeted anti-bullying program aimed at educating students on this topic.
But, as the state Education Department website points out, it is left entirely up to schools to ensure each incident is being reported and documented correctly.
High bullying numbers can deter parents considering a move to a district, or give those already living there a sense that their children’s school is a hostile place. That’s a problem many districts would like to avoid.
Despite this conflict of interest, the state has no mechanisms in place to review whether districts report their cases correctly, or at all.
More than 70% of students and school staff nationwide say they have witnessed bullying in their school, with 62% also saying they have witnessed bullying two or more times in the last month, according to stopbullying.gov.
Despite the reported prevalence of bullying, 40% of all schools in the state reported zero incidents in the 2013-14 school year and 81% reported 10 or fewer.
In the six years since the state began publishing end of the year records, schools in the analysis area reported no incidents 41.6% of the time.
Ross Ellis, the founder and CEO of one of the largest anti-bullying organizations in the country — Stomp Out Bullying — said in an email that bills like Dignity for All Students Act have good intentions, but often do not go far enough.
In her experience, the number of schools that thoroughly prevent bullying year in and year out is “less than a handful.”
“Sadly, it’s not the legislation, it’s the schools (not all of them) who are not enforcing the legislation,” Ellis said. “Many schools don’t want the mark of their school having bullies. Some are overwhelmed and don’t have time for reporting incidents.”
South Glens Falls’ numbers have declined sharply in recent years, a trend district Superintendent Kristine Orr credits to several factors.
Her district is the only one in the area in which every school has been certified in the No Place for Hate program. Implementing social and emotional learning practices at the elementary level gets students thinking about and addressing their behavior at an earlier age, she said.
The dropoff in incidents was abrupt, with the high school recording 151 incidents in the 2012-13 and 2013-14 school years combined, but just five since then.
No incidents were reported for the 2014-15 year in the high school, while the middle school reported 86 that year.
Orr said her district’s reporting process was audited by state officials in the 2014-15 school year, and administrators were informed they were over-reporting by including one-off incidents that should not have been categorized as bullying.
Because the legal case is ongoing, Orr said she would not comment on whether Taras’ suicide has influenced any new policy or changed the way the district approaches bullying.
The district now has options for students and parents to report bullying, including an anonymous text hotline, online forms, multiple outlets in each school building and staff who can report directly to the building’s principal.
Her building staff has done a great job in making students unafraid to report incidents themselves, Orr said.
“I believe the programs we’re putting in place, and the anonymous text line, have at the very least made people more comfortable reporting things,” Orr said.
Queensbury school district reported the lowest rate of incidents, at fewer than two per year, with some schools in multiple years reporting zero incidents, but Superintendent Doug Huntley said he is confident his staff is reporting accurately.
“The bottom line is we take all of these incidents very seriously, and it is my expectation they are all reported properly, according to state law,” Huntley said.
Similar to South Glens Falls, the district tries to foster trust between students and administrators so students are comfortable reporting incidents in which they may be the target of bullying or fear retaliation from a bully they witnessed, Huntley said.
Educating students and staff is key to addressing the issue and preventing incidents before they develop, Huntley said.
Glens Falls Superintendent Paul Jenkins was contacted last week, but the district spokeswoman, Skye Heritage, said Jenkins was not available for an interview before publication.
In several audits, the state Office of the Comptroller has found that many schools across the state appear to not be reporting incidents as required under the Dignity for All Students Act.
In a 2017 audit of schools outside of New York City, the office listed several key findings, including “certain schools may not be accurately reporting some DASA incidents or may not be reporting them at all.”
Sharon Salembier, a supervisor on the 2017 audit, said she thought progress was being made on reporting accuracy, because data in the 2017-18 report, the most recent one, showed that none of the larger schools (more than 1,000 students) reported zero incidents for the year.
She acknowledged district officials could be reluctant to report particularly high numbers or violent incidents.
“What is true is that it may be difficult when a school is required to report what may be considered negative information,” Salembier said. “There could be a disincentive to report correctly.”
No state mechanisms are in place to fine or otherwise hold districts accountable that avoid proper reporting, according to Education Department officials.
One official said reporting is not designed to be punitive, but serve as a tool to identify strategies to reduce incidents and improve school climate.
Parents and students do have recourse if they feel a school has mishandled or misrepresented an incident, intentionally or not.
A 310 appeal allows any person to appeal for a review of a school official’s action. It must be initiated within 30 days of the action being reviewed, and must contain evidence of willful and intentional wrongdoing.
Although this provision does offer parents and others an official avenue to put a check on the authority of school officials, it puts the burden of proof on the party making the appeal, meaning the district is innocent until proven guilty, and the state Commissioner of Education makes the final decision.
Incidents by individual schools
|CORINTH HIGH SCHOOL||Corinth||0||0||0||0||0||5|
|CORINTH MIDDLE SCHOOL||Corinth||0||0||0||0||2||0|
|CORINTH ELEMENTARY SCHOOL||Corinth||0||2||0||2||0||0|
|OLIVER W WINCH MIDDLE SCHOOL||South Glens Falls||54||86||86||25||5||9|
|HARRISON AVENUE ELEMENTARY SCHOOL||South Glens Falls||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|SOUTH GLENS FALLS SENIOR HIGH SCHOOL||South Glens Falls||60||91||0||2||1||2|
|MOREAU ELEMENTARY SCHOOL||South Glens Falls||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|BALLARD ELEMENTARY SCHOOL||South Glens Falls||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|TANGLEWOOD ELEMENTARY SCHOOL||South Glens Falls||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|SCHUYLERVILLE HIGH SCHOOL||Schuylerville||0||3||3||3||2||0|
|SCHUYLERVILLE ELEMENTARY SCHOOL||Schuylerville||0||0||0||3||1||0|
|SCHUYLERVILLE MIDDLE SCHOOL||Schuylerville||1||3||2||2||2||0|
|BOLTON CENTRAL SCHOOL||Bolton||3||1||1||3||1||3|
|NORTH WARREN CENTRAL SCHOOL||North Warren||2||8||4||6||2||2|
|BIG CROSS STREET SCHOOL||Glens Falls||3||10||10||6||4||3|
|JACKSON HEIGHTS SCHOOL||Glens Falls||1||0||9||2||13||4|
|KENSINGTON ROAD SCHOOL||Glens Falls||0||0||0||0||6||3|
|GLENS FALLS MIDDLE SCHOOL||Glens Falls||21||37||44||21||24||26|
|GLENS FALLS SENIOR HIGH SCHOOL||Glens Falls||33||26||7||5||19||23|
|JOHNSBURG CENTRAL SCHOOL||Johnsburg||1||2||1||4||4||2|
|LAKE GEORGE ELEMENTARY SCHOOL||Lake George||9||0||0||1||0||1|
|LAKE GEORGE JUNIOR-SENIOR HIGH SCHOOl||Lake George||15||11||17||22||9||5|
|STUART M TOWNSEND MIDDLE SCHOOL||Hadley-Luzerne||0||0|
|HADLEY-LUZERNE HIGH SCHOOL||Hadley-Luzerne||0||0|
|HADLEY-LUZERNE ELEMENTARY SCHOOL||Hadley-Luzerne||0||0|
|HADLEY-LUZERNE JUNIOR-SENIOR HIGH SCHOOL||Hadley-Luzerne||0||1||3||3|
|STUART M TOWNSEND ELEMENTARY SCHOOL||Hadley-Luzerne||0||2||1||8|
|QUEENSBURY ELEMENTARY SCHOOL||Queensbury||0||1||0||0||0||0|
|QUEENSBURY SENIOR HIGH SCHOOL||Queensbury||3||0||0||5||1||3|
|QUEENSBURY MIDDLE SCHOOL||Queensbury||0||0||0||3||3||3|
|WILLIAM H BARTON INTERMEDIATE SCHOOL||Queensbury||0||0||0||0||2||2|
|ABRAHAM WING SCHOOL||Glens Falls Common||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|WARRENSBURG JUNIOR-SENIOR HIGH SCHOOL||Warrensburg||13||5||1||0||0||12|
|WARRENSBURG ELEMENTARY SCHOOL||Warrensburg||0||2||1||0||0||0|
|ARGYLE JUNIOR/SENIOR HIGH SCHOOL||Argyle||15||12||21||2||0||0|
|ARGYLE ELEMENTARY SCHOOL||Argyle||5||0||5||0||0||2|
|FORT ANN CENTRAL SCHOOL||Fort Ann||0||35||23|
|FORT ANN MIDDLE/HIGH SCHOOL||Fort Ann||0||1||3|
|FORT ANN ELEMENTARY SCHOOL||Fort Ann||0||0||0|
|FORT EDWARD SCHOOL||Fort Edward||7||30||9||8||5||5|
|MARY J TANNER PRIMARY SCHOOL||Granville||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|GRANVILLE JUNIOR-SENIOR HIGH SCHOOL||Granville||8||0||13||5||4||3|
|GRANVILLE ELEMENTARY SCHOOL||Granville||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|GREENWICH JUNIOR-SENIOR HIGH SCHOOL||Greenwich||0||2||3||4||7||5|
|GREENWICH ELEMENTARY SCHOOL||Greenwich||0||0||0||2||3||12|
|HARTFORD CENTRAL SCHOOL||Hartford||0||2|
|HARTFORD MIDDLE/HIGH SCHOOL||Hartford||0||2||2||12|
|FLOYD HARWOOD ELEMENTARY SCHOOL||Hartford||0||0||0||1|
|HUDSON FALLS HIGH SCHOOL||Hudson Falls||8||3||5||5||12||37|
|HUDSON FALLS MIDDLE SCHOOL||Hudson Falls||2||3||5||4||5||6|
|MARGARET MURPHY KINDERGARTEN CENTER||Hudson Falls||0||0||0||3||0||0|
|HUDSON FALLS INTERMEDIATE SCHOOL||Hudson Falls||0||3||2||3||4||4|
|HUDSON FALLS PRIMARY SCHOOL||Hudson Falls||0||10||1||3||9||2|
|PUTNAM CENTRAL SCHOOL||Putnam||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|SALEM HIGH SCHOOL||Salem||5||13||6||7||5||3|
|SALEM ELEMENTARY SCHOOL||Salem||2||8||7||3||0||0|
|CAMBRIDGE ELEMENTARY SCHOOL||Cambridge||1||6||6||3||7||1|
|CAMBRIDGE JUNIOR-SENIOR HIGH SCHOOL||Cambridge||4||6||5||8||8||1|
|WHITEHALL ELEMENTARY SCHOOL||Whitehall||5||14||7||1||2||1|
|WHITEHALL JUNIOR-SENIOR HIGH SCHOOL||Whitehall||24||23||12||2||7||0|
Samuel Northrop is the education reporter for The Post-Star. He can be reached at email@example.com.