Lawsuit: NYC Education Dept. not addressing school violence

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NEW YORK (AP) — A federal lawsuit filed Wednesday by a group that supports charter schools and several New York City schoolchildren and their guardians says the Department of Education's failure to properly address violence in schools is depriving students of their right to a public education.

The lawsuit was filed in federal court in Brooklyn by Families For Excellent Schools and 10 New York City public school students and their families. It names the Department of Education and Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina as defendants, and seeks class-action status.

"Students cannot learn in educational environments where violence is commonplace," the lawsuit said. "DOE's custom and practice of deliberate indifference has robbed and will continue to rob children of their chance to learn and succeed within the public school system."

The lawsuit contends violence is on the rise in city public schools, and is particularly a problem in schools with higher populations of black and Latino students. It says the education department isn't enforcing its own regulations on how to deal with incidents of bullying and harassment, and says those regulations aren't adequate.

The suit recounts the histories of its plaintiffs, all of whom have been in New York City public schools. Among them is an 8-year-old boy who says he was bullied physically by other students, and that the abuse got so bad he stuck a pencil in his ear because he didn't want to hear the insults. The guardian of another plaintiff, an 11-year-old girl, says the child was forced for years to be in the same class with another student who continually bullied her, despite pleas for help. They and the other plaintiffs lost ground academically because of the bullying, the suit says.

It asks for the judge to require the department to come up with new regulations and enforce them, and calls for an independent monitor, among other things.

The DOE referred comment on the filing to the city's law department, and said it had comprehensive programs in place to address incidents of bullying and violence, and that it worked closely with the New York Police Department on providing a safe learning environment. A law department spokesman said city officials are reviewing the complaint.

When asked about school safety on Wednesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio said crime had been declining in schools. "If you look at the facts, school safety is doing a very good job at continuing a trend that started in the previous administration, continuing to drive down crime in our schools," he said.