Since the death of a 13-year-old Fort Edward boy in 2015, legislators have been attempting to reform the way school administrators handle cases of bullying.
Jacobe Taras, a student at Oliver W. Winch Middle School in the South Glens Falls Central School District, took his own life in 2015 after dealing with bullying and discrimination from fellow students “behind school and bus doors.”
“If we had known what was going on behind school and bus doors, which was detailed in Jacobe’s suicide note, we know he would still be with us today,” said Christine Taras, Jacobe’s mother. “Now all we have are our broken hearts and memories.”
“Jacobe’s Law” (S.1355B/A.8114B), sponsored by Sen. Jim Tedisco, R-Glenville, and Assemblywoman Patricia Fahy, D-Albany, would require school employees to notify parents — of both bullies and victims — after receiving reports of harassment, bullying or discrimination.
Administrators or school employees charged with receiving reports of bullying must currently report incidents to the state Education Department under the 2012 Dignity for All Students Act. The current law, however, does not require schools to notify parents leaving the decision to inform them of their child’s situation to the school district.
“If your child was bullied in school, wouldn’t you want to know?” Tedisco said. “Unfortunately, due to a loophole in state law, many parents are not being kept informed about incidents of bullying taking place at our schools.”
According to Fahy, conflicting guidelines for reporting have made it difficult for schools to properly account for incidents of bullying among the student body. This year’s budget included $2 million in funding to implement the Dignity for All Students Act, which Fahy believes will not only increase action taken by the Education Department to combat bullying, but also increase awareness of the issue.
“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,” Tedisco said. “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.”
Reservations for passing “Jacobe’s Law,” according to Tedisco and Fahy, stem from a desire to protect the privacy of students. In some cases, students may be too embarrassed to notify their parents of bullying themselves. In others a student’s sexuality, which could the root of discrimination against them, may be information they choose to withhold from parents. By having schools report bullying on a student’s behalf, their privacy may be overstepped.
However, both Fahy and Tedisco said they will work to maintain the privacy of students while still making parents aware of incidents of bullying in the language of the law and its implementation.
Similar laws are currently in place in multiple states including New Jersey, Connecticut, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Nevada, Rhode Island, Virginia and Wisconsin, according to Tedisco.
The bipartisan legislation has seen continuous support in the Senate where it passed by a vote of 59-0 after last year’s vote of 61-0.
Sponsors and advocates are now pushing for the bill to be brought to the floor in the Assembly, where it is currently in the Education Committee.