There’s been a “dramatic rise in bullying,” declares Robert Colarco, presiding officer of the Suffolk County Legislature, in the opening pages of a report issued last month by a Suffolk County Youth Anti-Bullying Task Force.
“Bullying has become more insidious and prevalent with the rise of social media,” says Mr. Colarco. “The psychological and physical toll affects students of all ages, from kindergarten through college.”
The task force, he notes, was established last year by his predecessor as presiding officer, DuWayne Gregory. Mr. Gregory had conversations with Devin Moore, “a student who was racially bullied” at school in East Islip. And from their discussions “came forth the idea to establish” the task force to “include teenagers from across Suffolk County.”
It’s also been a bipartisan effort. Messrs. Colarco and Gregory are Democrats, and a member of the task force was the legislature’s Republican minority leader, Tom Cilmi. In its opening pages Mr. Cilmi describes his being a victim of bullying.
“I know a young man, a quiet, shy young man who, for years, cried about going to school,” he writes. “The verbal and physical bullying began in junior high school and continued through his first year of high school. It got so bad that the boy sometimes pretended to be sick to avoid going to school, and was often purposely late to avoid going to the bus stop. The young man is now a county legislator”— Mr. Cilmi himself.
These days, says Mr. Cilmi, “Sadly, the consequences of bullying have escalated as well, with self-harm and suicide attempts unimaginably common even among middle-schoolers.”
Devin Moore, now 16, whose experiences inspired Mr. Gregory to create the task force, and was also member, writes in the report’s opening pages about how he “went through horrific bullying during my middle school years.” And he affirms: “Bullying prevention is a serious matter—one that cannot be ignored. Please consider implementing these recommendations. They will make an impactful change in an effort to prevent bullying.”
The recommendations focus on action: by Suffolk County, by school districts and by New York State.
For Suffolk, they include:
• The county expanding “services provided at suffolkstopbullying.org, a website that was set up after the Suffolk Legislature in 2014 authorized it.
• Providing to “all schools in Suffolk” an online “Suffolk Stop Bullying Resource Guide” put together last year, which was also an initiative of Mr. Gregory.
• Setting up a county “standing, student-led advisory board” on bullying.
Recommendations for school districts include:
• Having “dedicated high school clubs that focus on bullying.”
• Having “student governments” take “a more active role in establishing bullying awareness programs and events.”
Recommendations for the state include:
• State legislators working “to extend the provisions of the New York State Dignity for All Students Act to cover religious and other schools that are currently exempt from the law.”
• Having the state “work with school districts to ensure that recertification training for teachers’ licenses includes segments and courses related to cyberbullying and how to identify bullying.”
• Working “with school districts to ensure that the Dignity for All Student Act’s requirements are followed.”
• Working “more closely with students, student-led organizations and nonprofits.”
The founder and executive director of a non-profit group, The Long Island Coalition Against Bullying, Joseph Salamone, himself a bullying victim, was a member of the task force. Mr. Salamone writes in the report: “Our organization is asked all the time how we can really combat bullying and will it ever end. The answer is always the same. Bullying CAN end with focus on respect and engaging all stakeholders in the discussion.”
To read the report — its formal title is “Suffolk County Youth Anti-Bullying Task Force Final Recommendations Report”—visit the coalition’s website at https://www.licab.org/TaskForce.