School Of Pain: School leader says 'we can always do better'

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Two school officials from the Hudson Valley are responding to a News 12 special report on bullying, following data that proves some of the largest and highest-ranked schools in the area have not been reporting all incidents of bullying to the state Board of Education.

News 12 had initially reached out to 68 superintendents in four counties, but only two agreed to be interviewed.

Dr. Walter Moran is the head of Eastchester schools, and also oversees 85 other districts in Westchester, Rockland, Putnam and Dutchess counties.

WATCH: Part 1 of 'School of Pain' series

“We look for red flags,” he says. “We are very attentive to that, so I do think my colleagues are doing good job, but we could always do better."

Moran says that he believes bullying is not prevalent, but says that doesn't mean it doesn't occur.

To gauge the severity of the problem, the Dignity For All Students Act in New York, or DASA, requires school leaders to report every incident of bullying to the state Board of Education.

In 2016 – 2017, News 12’s data showed that nearly half of the 413 schools in the area didn’t report a single incident.

DIGITAL EXCLUSIVE: Click graphic below to check bullying incidents in your school and district:

“School

Moran explains that there are multiple boxes on the state report. If an incident falls into a category like assault or cybercrime, it doesn’t fall into bullying. An incident can only be listed in one category, not two.

It has to go in the box it fits best with and that can lead to an under reporting of bullying incidents as a whole.

“I think it’s important to understand bullying is a very important thing for schools to deal with, and whether that appears on a state report under that category or not, it has no indication in terms of how we deal with it and how seriously we take them,” says Moran. Dr. Moran also believes that many schools across the Hudson Valley are doing a much better job at prevention.

“Schools invest tremendous resources, especially in post-Columbine era. We are investing tremendous resources in counselors, school psychologists and social workers. We are intervening at an early, early, stage,” he says. This includes “buddy benches" in Elmsford to murals at the Albert Leonard Middle School in New Rochelle.

DIGITAL EXCLUSIVE: School leaders discuss efforts to curb bullying

The efforts appear to be helping.

Back in 2011, News 12’s Tara Rosenblum reported that eight students from the Monroe-Woodbury School District in Orange County attempted, threatened or committed suicide within two months. Many blamed the suicide cluster on bullying.

Dr. Elise Rodriguez, who is now superintendent of the district, was a principal at the time of the events. She says that students learn about bullying starting with kindergarten, and that teachers remind the students to be kind and respectful to others. They also infuse bullying prevention into their curriculum. “

As far as stopping bullying altogether, that would be my dream,” she says. “Will that happen right away? No, but we need to change the culture in our schools.”

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