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As city expands anti-bullying effort, union warns of backsliding

At the end of a week in which students across New York City were supposed to highlight ways they can celebrate each other’s differences and fight against bullying and harassment, city officials announced an expansion of their anti-harassment initiative.

School safety teams will now be required to include a staff member trained in diversity awareness and in efforts to battle bullying and harassment, officials announced today. The city is also collecting some of principals’ most successful responses to bullying, and plans to formally recognize schools with strong anti-bullying programs.

City officials, led by City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, have been expanding their anti-bullying efforts — known as the “Respect for All” initiative — since 2009. Since then, elementary school teachers and counselors have joined middle and high school teachers at anti-bullying training, and annual school surveys and quality reviews have begun to rate school on how accepting the environment is.

The city also spends a week each year highlighting its message of tolerance. The city’s website includes a list of some schools’ Respect for All week programs, including a cute video of an anti-bullying rap performed by fifth-graders at P.S. 119. (Back in December, GothamSchools Community contributor Ruben Brosbe described how his students may or may not have taken away the right message from his school’s anti-bullying campaign.)

At Francis Lewis High School in Queens, guidance counselors led anti-bullying workshops with the school’s 4,200 students, many of whom signed vows to stand up to bullies, according to a description sent out by the school:

They declared that never again will anyone at Francis Lewis High School have to stand alone to a bully. The signed petitions formed a chain linked around the building to display harmony among the students. During the workshops, many students stated that they never realized how many classmates have been victimized by bullying. This activity made them more aware of what they can do differently to create a bully-free environment for all students. One student stated, Now I know who to turn to and I don’t feel so alone.

The city has only been tracking whether violent incidents in schools involved bullying or harassment based on a student’s identity for the past two years. During the 2008-09 school year, around 6,000 of roughly 130,000 incidents were reported as being bias-related, city officials said today. Officials are currently calculating the figures for last school year, but said today they would likely be larger as school officials are encouraged to report cases of bullying.

Speaking at the announcement, the city teachers union’s Director of Safety David Kazansky warned that looming budget cuts could hurt schools’ abilities to effectively combat bullies. In a statement that hinted at both anxiety over slashed budgets and rising tension between the city and union, Kazansky urged the city to focus on saving the jobs of guidance counselors and social workers “instead of lobbying for layoffs.”