Turn To Tara: Law could leave private school students vulnerable to bullying

Posted: Updated:

A loophole in New York state law could leave thousands of students vulnerable to bullying.

A Turn to Tara investigation shows that the state's anti-bullying laws only apply to public schools.

Anna Schlesinger attends an elite private school in Westchester. She says she sent a letter to the dean of students citing all of the hateful things done to her by a classmate. The school cannot be mentioned due to an ongoing lawsuit.

Schlesinger says it began as just verbal attacks until it led to a death threat from a classmate.

"He told me to drink bleach and commit suicide," she says.

Schlesinger says she was on an app called House Party when the classmate broke into the conversation. She says the classmate showed the group bullets and said that Schlesinger and another girl were on a hit list.

Schlesinger says it scared her because she remembered the Sandy Hook school shootings, where 26 children were killed. She says the classmate made a similar threat in person.

Schlesinger reluctantly shared the information with her mother. They thought the child would be suspended or forced to apologize.

Instead, the alleged bully, who News 12 has been told is a well-known actor, went unpunished.

Schlesinger says the school came to the conclusion that there wasn’t any proof it happened in school.

Schlesinger's mom contacted the Greenburgh Police Department and met Special Victims Detective Nick Parikka, who informed her that their hands are usually tied in these types of cases.

Extended Turn to Tara interview: SVU detective shares tips on how to protect your children from cyberbullying

While the Dignity for All Students Act, or DASA, legally prohibits bullying in New York and outlines criteria to prevent and respond to it, Article 17 states that the law only applies to public schools. This loophole doesn't exist in other nearby states like New Jersey.

Most private schools do have their own guidelines on bullying, but the loophole essentially allows them to self-regulate and avoid the legal requirement that public schools have to refer the most extreme cases to police.

Of all the bullying incidents referred to his unit last year, Parikka says not one came from a private school administrator.
Iris Schlesinger was recently offered a partial tuition refund in exchange for not publicly revealing the name of the school. Anna Schlesinger has transferred to another school in Manhattan.

They both say they will continue speaking out.

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