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ELDRED, NY — Two years after Anthony Motta Jr. and his family won their bullying lawsuit against Eldred Central School District, Motta’s mother Christine Horne and his sister Jeanette…
ELDRED, NY — Two years after Anthony Motta Jr. and his family won their bullying lawsuit against Eldred Central School District, Motta’s mother Christine Horne and his sister Jeanette Gonzales feel the district is not taking the proper steps to stop bullying from happening. They point to current pending bullying lawsuits against the district, and say more needs to be done. Despite a mostly new-member school board, no necessary steps are being taken that bring results, and efforts to talk about the issues in public meetings get shut down, they said.
Though the reporting of bullying has been mandated in New York since 2010, when Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the Dignity for All Students Act (DASA) requiring every school to have a designated DASA coordinator, in most cases, if the administrators fail to report bullying cases to the State Department of Education there are no enforceable consequences; that’s what Horne and Gonzales want to change.
“We like the law, but it has to be enforceable,” Gonzales said. “There’s no punishment for this law, and that’s all we’re asking for.”
While stressing they are not pointing a finger specifically at Eldred, since bullying is going on nationwide, they said something needs to be done because of the alarming number of teen and youth suicides that studies link to school bullying.
“We want DASA to hold administrators accountable if they don’t report incidents, resulting in criminal charges,” Gonzales said. “If you get a traffic ticket, there are consequences, or any other law, and the same should apply here.”
The changes to the proposed “Motta’s Law” include:
• Mandated reporting of bullying incidents;
• Consequences for administrators who fail to report incidents;
• Guaranteed punishment if bullying does occur;
• Separate punishment for students in the school code of conduct who are found to be bullying students; and
• Civil and criminal liability for administrators, students, and parents if incidents persist with no corrective action.
“It’s all about protecting the kids,” Horne and Gonzales say.
A previous school board member Brian Siegel had tried to bring a forensic audit to the district to bring to light every bullying incident over the years, but was voted down.
“When Carol [Bliefernich, the former board president] denied the forensic audit, she said it was premature. And yet the lawsuits continue. If they had done the forensic audit when Siegel suggested it, maybe there wouldn’t be as many pending lawsuits. It proves that they are ignoring the issues, because the forensic audit looks at how they address all scopes of behavior,” Horne said.
Horne and Gonzales said a federal lawsuit was brought against the district in 2012, and as a result, a “bully button” for confidential reporting was introduced on the district website. But, Horne said that the info has been shared publicly when it should have remained confidential.
Attorney Jenni Elena Rubino of the law firm that represented Motta in the lawsuit to its successful conclusion, indicted due to confidentiality, they couldn’t talk about how many cases are currently pending against the district, but acknowledged there are pending cases. She spoke more about one case they say has troubling similarities to Motta’s case.
She explained that although there is a new school board, nothing seems to have changed, since a case involving Graham McGarvey whom she’s representing has incidents that happened under boards starting in 2013 and continuing to last school year 2018-2019. “It shows, the old school board didn’t do much, and the same goes for the new school board,” Rubino explained.
“McGarvey and Anthony Motta’s cases are strikingly similar, with the caveat McGarvey’s sister was also involved in bullying, the two siblings were targeted, a girl and the boy, with a different dynamic when it comes to boys and girls. It happened over multiple years, school district was very aware of what going on and didn’t do much to correct it. It continued to happen to both children.”
“Basically, the boy was being frustrated and complained, but if he said something, he got in trouble. They called the cops and took him off the premises. It’s like it’s never ever changed, it’s just the same.”
Jean-Paul Le Du, who delivered the closing statement when he co-counseled with Ms. Rubino on the Motta case said, “When I look at these cases, the Motta family is a very tight-knit family, but not every family has that: two parents, stable jobs. One reason why suicide wasn’t an option for Anthony was his family: his mom supported him, looked after him closely. In many cases, Mom works two jobs, there’s no father around, no time for them. So suicide and running away from home becomes a real option, especially in Sullivan County.”
“McGarvey had it a little bit worse than Motta. After RCPC, he was not allowed back to school but was sent off to a group home, because when he was expelled, he was removed from his home by the court. His parents were stripped of their parental rights. They lost their son because he was bullied. Motta was able to go back to school and home.”
Horne and Gonzales feel sweeping incidents under the rug and victimizing the target are still happening.
“But how you handle bullying and discipline it and deter it from happening, that’s the issue,” said Gonzales. “You have to address it; if you have cancer and have treatment, you have a chance to live longer. Same with bullying, if you do the same here, you can prevent future issues. In the end it’s changing the laws that makes things happen.”
Horne and Gonzales can be reached at Teammotta2017@gmail.com. They’ve started a petition on change.org to Cuomo called, Strengthen NY State DASA Law.