getting the facts

Public advocate calls for increased transparency on school bullying, sexual harassment

PHOTO: Monica Disare
Public Advocate Letitia James announces a campaign to find more information about school bullying and sexual harassment.

City schools are underreporting incidents of bullying and sexual harassment, according to Public Advocate Letitia James, who announced a plan Thursday to bring more of these incidents to light.

James revealed a three-point campaign, including a vow to introduce legislation that would require the Department of Education to release better stats on bullying and sexual harassment. She called for a litany of information from the department, including the precise nature of each safety incident and what action the school pursued. Her office also plans to conduct an outreach campaign to parents.

“For too many children, the first day of school is not full of excitement and nerves, but with a fear and anxiety over bullying and sexual harassment,” James said. “As over one million students return to New York City public schools today, we have a moral obligation to protect our kids from harm and ensure that parents are aware of their rights.”

James’ announcement comes after a recent report by State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman revealed that city schools are under-reporting incidents of bullying. In 2013-2014, 70 percent of schools reported zero incidents of harassment, bullying or discrimination, the analysis found.

James cited Schneiderman’s report as one reason she chose to launch the campaign. She also mentioned complaints received by her own office, and a critical 2015 audit by State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, showing the education department failed to report hundreds of violent crimes.

Education department officials said that schools are the safest they have ever been and that reporting incidents is not optional.

“We have explicit protocols and robust training programs in place which require that all incidents of harassment, bullying, discrimination and intimidation are reported, investigated and appropriately addressed,” said education department spokeswoman Toya Holness.

There are several reasons why schools might underreport bullying, said Nelson Mar, an education law specialist at Legal Services NYC. A principal, for instance, may be concerned about his or her school’s reputation. The Department of Education also has a very “narrow definition” of what counts as bullying, specifying that there must be an imbalance of power between the individuals involved, he said.

There are also discrepancies between city and state reports of bullying, which James asked the city to explain.

Reporting incidents correctly is crucial to making sure students get the help they need, Mar said.

“The issues aren’t addressed if they’re aren’t reported accurately,” he said.


Aurora’s superintendent will get a contract extension

Aurora Public Schools Superintendent Rico Munn. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)

The Aurora school board is offering superintendent Rico Munn a contract extension.

Marques Ivey, the school board president, made the announcement during Tuesday’s regular board meeting.

“The board of education believes we are headed in the right direction,” Ivey said. Munn can keep the district going in the right direction, he added.

The contract extension has not been approved yet. Munn said Tuesday night that it had been sent to his lawyer, but he had not had time to review it.

Munn took the leadership position in Aurora Public Schools in 2013. His current contract is set to expire at the end of June.

Munn indicated he intends to sign the new contract after he has time to review it. If he does so, district leaders expect the contract to be on the agenda of the board’s next meeting, April 3, for a first review, and then for a vote at the following meeting.

Details about the new offer, including the length of the extension or any salary increases, have not been made public.

Four of the seven members currently on the board were elected in November as part of a union-supported slate. Many voiced disapproval of some of the superintendent’s reform strategies such as his invitation to charter school network DSST to open in Aurora.

In their first major vote as a new board, the board also voted against the superintendent’s recommendation for the turnaround of an elementary school, signaling a disagreement with the district’s turnaround strategies.

But while several Aurora schools remain low performing, last year the district earned a high enough rating from the state to avoid a path toward state action.

cooling off

New York City charter leader Eva Moskowitz says Betsy DeVos is not ‘ready for prime time’

PHOTO: Chalkbeat
Success Academy CEO and founder Eva Moskowitz seemed to be cooling her support for U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

In New York City, Eva Moskowitz has been a lone voice of support for the controversial U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. But even Moskowitz appears to be cooling on the secretary following an embarrassing interview.

“I believe her heart is in the right place,” Moskowitz, founder and CEO of Success Academy, said of DeVos at an unrelated press conference. “But as the recent interviews indicate, I don’t believe she’s ready for primetime in terms of answering all of the complex questions that need to be answered on the topic of public education and choice.”

That is an apparent reference to DeVos’s roundly criticized appearance on 60 Minutes, which recently aired a 30-minute segment in which the secretary admits she hasn’t visited struggling schools in her tenure. Even advocates of school choice, DeVos’s signature issue, called her performance an “embarrassment,” and “Saturday Night Live” poked fun at her.  

Moskowitz’s comments are an about-face from when the education secretary was first appointed. While the rest of the New York City charter school community was mostly quiet after DeVos was tapped for the position, Moskowitz was the exception, tweeting that she was “thrilled.” She doubled-down on her support months later in an interview with Chalkbeat.

“I believe that education reform has to be a bipartisan issue,” she said.

During Monday’s press conference, which Success Academy officials called to push the city for more space for its growing network, Moskowitz also denied rumors, fueled by a tweet from AFT President Randi Weingarten, that Success officials had recently met with members of the Trump administration.

Shortly after the election, Moskowitz met with Trump amid speculation she was being considered for the education secretary position. This time around, she said it was “untrue” that any visits had taken place.

“You all know that a while back, I was asked to meet with the president-elect. I thought it was important to take his call,” she said. “I was troubled at the time by the Trump administration. I’m even more troubled now. And so, there has been no such meeting.”