A bipartisan group of state lawmakers is pushing for an anti-bullying measure that would require schools to tell parents when their child is being bullied, or if their son or daughter is behaving like a bully toward others.
The measure, Jacobe’s law, is named after Jacobe Taras, a 13-year-old from the North Country town of Fort Edward who committed suicide in 2015 after he was bullied at school.
His father, Richard Taras, said Jacobe often stuck up for other children who were bullied, and as a result, he was the target of bullying himself.
“Kindness was his cornerstone,” Taras said. “If you were the outcast, he would invite you in. For that kindness, he was shown bullying.”
Taras said he knew of one incident where his son was bullied on the school bus, and he and his wife, Christina, intervened with school officials. They learned in their son’s suicide note that after that, the bullying intensified to the point where their son believed he could no longer endure it.
The Tarases sued the South Glens Falls school district, saying teachers and administrators knew of the bullying but said and did nothing.
They attended the press conference with state Sen. Jim Tedisco, a Schenectady Republican, who is the Senate sponsor of Jacobe’s law. He said research shows children who are bullied score lower on tests than their peers and are more likely to attempt suicide.
“If they go to school and they are afraid to be in their seat or in the hallways or on the school grounds, they are not only not going to get the full benefit of their education,” Tedisco said, “they may not have their life later on.”
The measure has been approved twice in the state Senate but is stalled in the New York State Assembly.
Assemblywoman Pat Fahy, an Albany Democrat, is sponsoring the bill in that house. She said opponents are not against more protections for children who are bullied, but the idea of requiring automatic notification of parents of alleged bullying is controversial.
Fahy said some LGBTQ advocates worry that children may need privacy about their sexual orientation from their own families, in case they might face repercussions at home.
“There might be even worse bullying in the home,” Fahy said.
But Tedisco said there are ways to protect those children while still informing parents. He said many parents are supportive of their children’s sexual and gender identity, and they should have the right to know what’s happening at school. Tedisco also said the schools already are required to report the bullying incidents to the state education department. This just goes one step further.
“No parent that I know of has told me that they don’t want to know if their child is being bullied or is bullying in the school,” Tedisco said. “Not one.”
The state already has a 2010 law, known as the Dignity for All Students Act. That measure requires school administrators to report instances of bullying to the state Education Department and to designate someone in each school to investigate reports of bullying. It is silent, though, on whether parents or guardians of students should be notified.
The New York State Board of Regents on Monday was still trying to fine-tune that law, which already has been amended a couple of times. The board is working out ways to clarify exactly what types of incidents need to be reported to the Education Department and need to be investigated.
The push for Jacobe’s Law comes at a time when the federal government has decided not to investigate any claims of discrimination from transgender students. New York’s education department is making it clear to schools in the state that they do intend to follow up on any complaints from students.
Both Tedisco and Fahey said they are willing to amend the bill if that will get it the support it needs to become law.