Senator Jim Tedisco (R,C,I,REF-Glenville) today announced that the New York State Senate has unanimously passed his legislation, “Jacobe’s Law,” for the second year in row, to require that schools notify parents when a child is being threatened by a bully.
“Jacobe’s Law” (S.1355B/A.8114B), which passed the Senate by a vote of 59-0, requires that school employees charged with receiving reports of harassment, bullying or discrimination contact the parents or guardians of the students involved – both the bullies and victims -- when an incident of bullying or harassment occurs.
In 2012, the Dignity for All Students Act became law as a means to address bullying in our schools. Although schools are required to report incidents to the state Education Department, the Dignity for All Students Act does not require schools to alert parents when their child has been bullied or is believed to be the perpetrator of bullying. Rather, the law currently leaves it up to each school district to decide whether they will or will not notify parents of children involved in an incident of bullying. This serious gap in state law has led to fatal consequences.
In April 2015, 13-year-old Jacobe Taras of Fort Edward tragically took his own life as a result of bullying. Jacobe’s parents, Christine and Richard Taras, say they were not notified by Jacobe’s school of the extent of bullying he faced. This was not an isolated incident. There are many heartbreaking stories of young people injuring themselves, or worse yet, taking their own lives because of bullying.
“If your child was bullied in school, wouldn’t you want to know? That’s the question, I’ve asked scores of parents, education officials and my colleagues over the past few months and not a single person has said, ‘no, I’d rather not know.’ Unfortunately, due to a loophole in state law, many parents are not being kept informed about incidents of bullying taking place at our schools,” said Tedisco, who served close to a decade as a special education teacher and guidance counselor and has a master’s degree in special education.
“Jacobe Taras’s death was a sad and tragic lesson for the urgent need to require transparency and parental notification when a child is bullied at school. No child should have to experience bullying in or out of school. Schools should make parents aware of threats of violence to their children so that a parent or guardian can take action they deem appropriate to protect their child’s safety and emotional well-being,” said Tedisco,
“Parents have a right to know what's going on with their children as our schools should be safe places for children to enjoy learning and not fear for their physical and emotional well-being. Bullying is not ‘kids just being kids,’ it’s abusive behavior that can have devastating and potentially fatal consequences as my family knows all too well,” said Christine Taras, Jacobe’s mother. “If I had known what was going on behind school and bus doors, which was detailed in Jacobe’s suicide note, I know he would still be with us today. Now all I have is a broken heart and my memories. I thank Senator Tedisco for his leadership in fighting to get this bill passed in the Senate. I now ask that the Assembly brings this common sense bill forward for a vote. I hope Jacobe’s story can help lead to positive change and save lives.”
Bullying is defined based on what’s listed under the Dignity for All Students Act and what incidences schools are currently required to report to the New York State Education Department.
Senator Tedisco noted that at a recent state budget hearing, State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia expressed her support for parents being notified if their children are involved in an incident of bullying.
“If the statistics and incidences of bullying are important enough to report to the administrators at State Ed, then they are urgent enough to make parents aware of to intervene to develop a plan of action and potentially help avert a tragedy. My heart goes out to the Taras family and all the families that have faced this devastating tragedy related to bullying. I can only hope that through ‘Jacobe’s Law’ we can bring about a positive change that can involve parents in helping to stop bullying and save lives,” said Tedisco.
Assemblywoman Patricia Fahy (D-Albany) is sponsoring the bill in the Assembly.