State audit show schools lacking when it comes to reporting bullying and harassment

(WHAM photo)

Monroe County, N.Y. – A new state audit shows schools are lacking when it comes to reporting bullying and harassment. Under the Dignity for All Students Act (DASA), 30 percent schools in Monroe County reported no bullying or harassment incidents for the last three years.

These are findings in a recent audit conducted by the New York State Office of the State Comptroller.

It’s been four years since DASA was implemented as a way to track where and when bullying and harassment is happening, from school grounds to online.

“It's really an opportunity to give leadership at a local level and state level, as well a real picture of what's happening in our schools, what's going on in our schools, and that values one of looking at the trends over a period time,” said Thomas DiNapoli, New York State Comptroller. “So the accuracy of the reporting becomes very, very key in that regard.”

During a press conference at The Out Alliance on Friday, DiNapoli pointed out this audit made clear the confusion surrounding this act.

“The Dignity for All Students Act was created to protect students. But four years later, many schools remain unsure of what to do and make serious errors in reporting incidents of harassment and bullying,” DiNapoli said. “All students deserve schools that support them and are safe and free from harassment and bullying. School districts must protect students’ rights and ensure thorough training for school staff. We appreciate that the State Education Department agrees with our recommendations and is taking steps to help school officials improve their ability to safeguard students.”

In the audit, samples from three schools in Monroe County were taken. Penfield, Irondequoit and East high schools were the selected few.

The audit found both Penfield and Irondequoit high schools had not reported at least four incidents, and East High had reporting errors. For example, more than 800 incidents were listed as “other,” and the type of harassment was not included.

The comptroller points out these findings are reflective of what's happening across the state - a reason why his recommendations, following the audit, include more education for schools on how to implement and follow DASA.

“If we respond to bullying when we see it and take corrective steps, we're going to allow our students to focus on their education and focus on their own development instead of focusing on being something other,” said Assemblyman Harry Bronson, (D - 138th District).

Education and Communications Coordinator of The Out Alliance, Rowan Collins, works with area school districts.

“We have seen a lot of improvement, especially in Monroe County, in the way our schools have been handling incidents of harassment and bullying,” said Collins. “Not just with the LGBTQ community with students and staff, but with lots of different identity components.”

Collins doesn't do DASA specific education with schools, but believes with understanding and more education the law will do what it's meant to do: Help students.

“I think there's always more work to be done, but we're impressed with the amount of school districts that have gotten in touch with us in at least the last two and a half years," said Collins.

Both Penfield and West Irondequoit high schools sent us the following statements:

In the audit, East High indicated it need more training and guidance when it comes to DASA.

That's one of the recommendations the comptroller says should happen in all districts.

He says the state education department is on board.

The comptroller plans to do a follow up audit in a year or so to make sure necessary changes have been made across the state.

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