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Proposed law seeks to prevent bullying in schools, but family of school murder victim feels lawsuit is also needed

WEST FARMS, The Bronx -- Two city councilmembers said they were somberly marking the anniversary of the first homicide in a New York City public school since 1993 by announcing that they had the votes to pass legislation aimed at preventing such a tragedy from reoccurring.

"When it comes to bullying, the school system is failing," said Ritchie Torres, one of two Bronx councilmembers who've sponsored a bill aimed at reducing bullying that might lead to physical violence, up to and including murder. They made their announcement at the school at which last year's killing took place.

"The legislation would require the City of New York to connect young people, especially in our public school system, to anti-bullying resources," Torres told PIX11 News.

Those resources include the DOE Program Respect for All, the BRAVE Campaign hotline, the NYC Well program, and the Crisis Text Line, all of which are available to New York City children, pre-teens and teens.

The legislation "also requires that these resources are given to students and family members on paper," said its co-sponsor, Bronx Councilmember Rafael Salamanca, "so they have these resources with them."

The bill, which is expected to pass the City Council later this month, is a response to the families of teens involved in a fatal incident in late September of last year at the Urban Assembly School for Wildlife Conservation.

On September 27, 2017, student Abel Cedeño, 18, stabbed two fellow students, who the openly gay sophomore said had been bullying him. The stabbing ended with one of the stabbed students, Matthew McCree, 15, dying from his wounds.

Cedeño is out on bail, pending trial in the case. His mother, as well as McCree's, have both said that bullying had been a problem at the school here, even though the families of the stabbing victims have denied that their students had bullied Cedeño.

The new anti-bullying bill seeks to get anti-bullying resource information in parents' and students' hands before incidents can escalate, and perhaps even before they start, the councilmembers said.

They cited the city's own statistics, compiled by the comptroller's office last year, that show 82 percent of students in grades 6 -12 said that their peers harass, bully or intimidate others in school. That was an increase from 65 percent in 2012.

The comptroller's survey also found that 23 percent of 6th to 12th grade students indicated that they did not feel safe in the vicinity of their schools.

That type of climate is part of the reason McCree's family says they are suing the Department of Education. In addition to their lawsuit, the family's attorney said, the proposed legislation is helpful, because not enough had been done by the DOE under existing law.

"The school did nothing," said lawyer Sanford Rubenstein, who's representing the McCree Family. "It did not follow the [New York State] Dignity For Students Act, which has protocols required when bullying is reported, to stop it."

For its part, the DOE issued a statement Friday evening, that read, in part, "We are committed to fostering safe, supportive environments for all students, and are investing $8 million in new anti-bullying resources. Every school is required to have a Respect for All liaison, and resources are available on the DOE website, including an online reporting form for allegations of bullying. We take the impact of bullying on our students’ well-being extremely seriously, and work to immediately investigate and address any allegation.”