Volume 73, Number 54 | May 12 - 18, 2004

Nadler takes on school bullies in proposed bill

By Elizabeth O’Brien

U.S. Representative Jerrold Nadler wants to give states an added incentive to stop bullying in schools.

On May 10, Nadler announced proposed legislation that would provide $300 million in federal matching funds over four years for states to establish or continue anti-harassment programs. Joined by educators and advocates at Passannante Playground at Sixth Ave. and Houston St. in the Village, Nadler introduced the “Anti-bullying Campaign Act of 2004” to protect the estimated 5 million children who are physically or verbally threatened by other students each year.

Both bullies and their victims must be helped, Nadler said. Students who are bullied are more likely to suffer from depression, attempt suicide and use drugs or alcohol. On the other hand, nearly 60 percent of boys who bullied kids between grades six and nine were convicted of a crime at least once by the age of 24, according to a recent survey.

“Clearly, school bullying and harassment threaten our children’s safety and health,” Nadler said.

The legislation would match funds put up by states and give states the leeway to implement their own programs. In order to be eligible for the money, states must protect all students against bullying, regardless of race, creed, religion, disability, gender, sexual orientation or gender identity.

“In particular, with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students, we find that harassment is the rule, not the exception,” said Kevin Jennings, executive director of the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network.

Some ways states could allocate the funds include teacher training to help educators recognize the problem and to combat the “kids will be kids” mentality that often allows bullies to go unpunished, Nadler said.

Nadler’s proposed legislation comes at a time when the New York City Council has introduced its own anti-bullying legislation. Sponsored by Councilmember Alan Gerson, Intro 188, which as of Monday had not been voted on by the full Council, would require mandatory reporting of all harassment incidents in schools by July 30 of each year. That information would then be included on each school’s annual report card.

A student shooting baskets near the press conference expressed skepticism that laws could fix the bullying problems in schools. Adam Malki, 12, who attends St. Joseph’s School on Washington Pl. in the Village, said he is often bullied and harassed for money, computer games and for no reason at all.

Malki said sometimes he fakes illness to stay home from school. According to Nadler, each day 160,000 students nationwide skip school for fear of being bullied.
When asked what measures schools should take to stop bullying, Malki said better enforcement was needed. And to be extra safe, he said, “I would tell them to bring some metal detectors in there.”

JoAnn Costanzo, the basketball coach at St. Joseph’s, said the school wasn’t aware of any serious harassment problems involving St. Joseph’s students or children from other schools.

“As far as any bullying per se, St. Joseph’s would have heard,” Costanzo said.

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