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UFT announces $50,000 outlay in new anti-bullying campaign

The teachers union and city are often portrayed as pushing each other around. Not today.

UFT President Michael Mulgrew and Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott shared a podium this morning to announce a new hotline for students to use to get advice about bullying. The hotline is the main initiative of BRAVE (Building Respect, Acceptance, and Voice through Education), a $50,000 anti-bullying campaign funded by the union and launched in conjunction with city agencies and the City Council.

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said at the announcement that bullying had replaced grades and graduation as parents’ chief education concerns.

“The reality is if you poll parents right now, you ask them what keeps them up at night, you ask them what makes them worry about their child’s ability to excel in school, they’ll tell you bullying,” Quinn said.

When students call the hotline (212-709-3222) on weekdays between 2:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m., the trained clinicians and mental health professionals who pick up will first evaluate their immediate safety and then help them construct a plan to confront their situation.

There will not be any direct communication with students’ schools because of the confidentiality issue. However, the Mental Health Association of New York City, who will be manning the hotline, will be tracking data about the number of student callers.

For this year, the union has committed to covering the entire $50,000 price tag of the campaign, which will include monthly workshops for parents and school personnel in addition to the hotline. Mulgrew signaled that the UFT might not be able to maintain that funding level in the future but he said he would work to ensure that it continues.

Walcott said combating bullying is key to promoting academic achievement.

“All of us want our students to learn, to graduate, to be college and career ready. And to do that we have to make sure we are providing a safe environment in school and surrounding school,” he said.

The new initiative comes on top of previous efforts to curb bullying. The city’s Respect for All campaign essentially banned bullying in NYC schools, holding schools responsible for promoting accepting environments and for monitoring bullying. A state anti-bullying law is set to go into effect next year. But critics say those efforts haven’t kept students safe.

To get the word out, Walcott is informing principals of the new campaign. The UFT is also putting BRAVE posters in every school and information about BRAVE will be included in the Respect for All curriculum and training materials.