Family works for bullying law change

ANYA TIKKA
Posted 1/23/20

ELDRED, NY — After Anthony Motta Jr. and his family settled their lawsuit against Eldred Central School District last fall, bullying is still going on, and the district is not taking adequate …

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Family works for bullying law change

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ELDRED, NY — After Anthony Motta Jr. and his family settled their lawsuit against Eldred Central School District last fall, bullying is still going on, and the district is not taking adequate steps to stem it out, according to Christine Horne, Motta’s mother. She and her daughter Jeannette Gonzalez have been trying to convince lawmakers to change the law to hold school personnel accountable if stipulations in the New York State Dignity for all Students Act (DASA) are not met.

Horne says while the law is an obvious improvement, it’s more or less powerless if there are no consequences in the form of firings, loss of state funds, or even criminal charges for educators who violate the law.

DASA states that all incidences have to be scrupulously recorded by the designated DASA coordinator—in most cases the superintendent—and other steps have to be taken to be vigilant against bullying. But Horne says the bullying is still going on, and parents of the targets keep contacting her family because they now know about their fight. “I know it’s still going on,” Horne said to The River Reporter. She also said she believes people in and around the school are trying to suppress the reporting about what’s happening.

On January 14, Horne, Motta, his father and the law firm that handled their case against Eldred were on a segment of NBC News that highlighted the issues and the proposal of the new law, dubbed Motta’s Law.

In an interview, Jenni Elena Rubino of the Rubino Law Firm said that the Eldred School District deals with the bullying by removing the targets, not the bullies.

The news footage showed the school from the outside, and a 2017 clip from Eldred School Board meeting, when then-board member Brian Siegel suggested a forensic audit be held in the school to uncover and deal with the district’s bulling policy and problems. It was voted down.

More lawsuits against the district are already pending, and Horne is slated to meet with Sen. David Carlucci on Saturday, February 22 in Albany. She’s also enlisting local politicians’ help, and so far has visited Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther, Sen. Jen Metzer and retired judge Frank LaBuda, who has thrown his weight behind the effort, writing in an email among other things, “Ms. Motta met with me this morning, and is trying to get this proposal enacted into NY Law! I agree that this is a problem that our legislature must at least consider. The best prevention is to hold those in charge with the power to stop bullying accountable! We can no longer look the other way, for the sake of all our children. Currently there are no sanctions for schools that violate DASA.”

Horne says parents from the school district keep getting in contact with her with their worries about their children who are being bullied at school. Lively, sometimes contentious, discussions take place on social media platforms by local groups, some members of which deny bullying exists in the district.

The changes to the proposed “Motta’s Law” include:

• Mandated reporting of bullying incidents,
• Administrators held responsible for failure to report to the state,
• Implementing a punishment if bullying does occur,
• Separate punishment for students in the school code of conduct who are guilty of bullying students,
• Administrators, students and parents held liable both civilly and criminally for damages if the incidents persist with no corrective action taken.

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