Special Report: Bullying by the numbers

(NEWS10) – The Dignity for all Students Act was passed in 2012 to help school districts create a safe and bully-free environment. Under the law, all schools have to report back to the state on the number of bullying cases they investigate, but as NEWS10 ABC found out, the numbers don’t seem to add up for some local school districts.

On the outside, 12-year-old Breanna Williams was outgoing and bubbly.  She was a typical tween taking selfie after selfie.

“I’m so grateful she took all those selfies,” her mom Mona Hill said.

Breanna was even all smiles in all her school pictures, but school is where the problem started.

“It started in fifth grade,” Hill said. “Breanna started complaining about other children being mean to her, picking on her. They would tell her to do things like kill herself live on Facebook so everyone could watch. They would tell her she’s too fat.”

By seventh grade it was all too much. In December 2014, the day after Christmas, Breanna took her own life.

“She made the table, made the tree, made everything perfect,” Hill recalled. “Then she went in the bathroom and didn’t come out.”

“School is a place where children should be loved and able to learn,” Hill added.

But the reality is for some students it’s not.

“I think all districts are faced with bullying,” Queensbury High School Principal Damian Switzer explained.

 All districts are required to report the number of bullying cases to the New York State Education Department. The year Breanna killed herself, Gloversville Middle School reported 12 total DASA harassment cases and two cyberbullying incidences.

But as NEWS10 dug through DASA reports from the past couple of years, we found several districts who weren’t reporting any DASA violations: no bullying, no cyberbullying. One of those districts was Queensbury, where zero DASA  violations were reported for the past two school years.

Even Principal Switzer was surprised.

“It shouldn’t be zero,” he said. “I would expect it to be low but not zero.”

NEWS10 showed the reports to Queensbury High School Assistant Principal Jonathon Baker. It’s his job to investigate any bullying that’s reported to the school.

“Honestly, I wasn’t here,” he responded.

Baker has only been on the job for the past five months.

“All I would venture to say is there were no DASA offenses that took place that year through investigations,” he said. “I can honestly go by the report.”

Queensbury isn’t alone. This past school year, Gloversville High School, South Glens Falls High School, Corinth and Tamarac Middle and High School all reported zero cases.

“I think it’s absolutely unbelievable,” Hill said.

After investigating further, Queensbury Superintendent Dr. Douglas Huntley said the following in a statement:

“It is possible for an incident to meet the threshold for VADIR (Violent and Disruptive Incidents) reporting and not for DASA reporting.”

VADIR stands for Violent and Disruptive Incident Data. It mainly looks at school safety.

Queensbury did have 16 reports of harassment last school year. The state said there are a higher set of standards under DASA. They include determining if there is a hostile environment affecting a student’s educational performance – factors the district believes can be subjective and up for interpretation.

“Sometimes bullying is applied to every situation,” Switzer said. “For us, it boils down to conflict.”

Hill wants people to know Breanna was bullied to death. That’s why she believes zero tolerance should be enforced.

“I think its 100 percent all about accountability,” she said. 

The Queensbury superintendent said definition and thresholds for DASA set by the state are far too limiting and sometimes confusing. He feels there is a lack of training for schools on how to identify and report DASA violations.

The district does recognize their underreporting as a problem. To address the issue, just last month, they held DASA related training on how to better identify bullying cases and report them.

Read the DASA report for yourself, HERE.

The state education department told NEWS10 ABC: “We are working with the Center for School Safety to plan for training dates. We are also developing a webinar set for May on the topic of cyberbullying.”

 

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