Several New York City parents and students have filed a class-action lawsuit against the city Department of Education alleging the nation’s largest school district has failed to protect children from violence and bullying.
A group of 11 students and 10 parents announced the lawsuit outside the DOE headquarters during a rally with the pro-charter school group Families for Excellent Schools Thursday, alleging that the district had denied students the right to public education without the threat of violence.
The 96-page filing also alleges that the city defies a state law that is supposed to ensure reporting and investigations of school violence. The suit also claims that violence in schools is on the rise.
In a statement Thursday, Mayor de Blasio disputed the suit’s claims of increasing violence.
“When we look at the facts, school safety is doing a very good job continuing a trend that started in the last administration and continues,” he said. “This year to date, the major crime in our schools is down 14.29 percent and other crimes down 6.77 percent.”
One of the plaintiffs said her 7-year-old son was dragged down by a flight of stairs by a teacher who was allowed to remain in the classroom and was later arrested on assault charges in an attack on a different child. Another mother alleges that a teacher attacked her 8-year-old son, and that the school failed to take action after she expressed concerns for the boy’s safety.
“These stories are tragic - but what’s worse is that the Department of Education has systematically failed to follow legal guidelines that would have kept these children safe,” said Jim Walden, the attorney for the parents in the suit. “No child can learn in an environment fraught with violence and harassment.”
The lawsuit comes after several students brought firearms onto school grounds in recent weeks. In the most recent case, on Monday, three boys were arrested after authorities alleged they menaced a 12-year-old girl with a handgun at their Upper East Side school. The weapon was found in one of the boys’ lockers.
De Blasio said the reports of weapons in schools were “obviously troubling” but that students caught with guns will face consequences.
“We absolutely have more work to do, but school safety is showing us consistently that they can and will continue to drive down crime in the schools, and keep all students and staff safe.”
The city's Law Department said it is reviewing the claim.