Let's Protect Our Children Against Bullying by Creating Safe and Inclusive Spaces in Schools

Private Danny Chen took his own life in Afghanistan because of the hate and fear he felt around him. He enlisted in the army at the age of 19 to fight for ideals of freedom and democracy, only to face bullying and isolation from his fellow soldiers. We lost a good soldier and fellow American because of intolerance. That's when I asked myself: how do we prevent this from happening again?

The reality is Danny Chen is not alone. Over the last year we have seen several young members of our community, including those here in New York, fall victim to bullying -- which is, unfortunately, the leading cause behind teen suicide. And though we can't make up for lives lost, I want to ensure that moving forward, our children grow up in an inclusive environment free of harassment and discrimination.

To that end, I am proud that the New York City Council has worked with the NYC Department of Education and the Mayor's office to create the Respect for All (RFA) program in our public schools. RFA creates safe spaces for students by giving them a forum to celebrate their identity and diversity regardless of ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or disability.

RFA helps principals develop site-specific anti-bullying plans and holds them accountable for maintaining a safe and inclusive school. It trains teachers and staff to make sure they know the best ways to support students who are being bullied, and provide them the resources they need to intervene.

RFA also requires schools to track all bias incidents, and to ensure that follow-up steps are taken on each complaint.

Eliminating bullying and harassment in our schools is critical to preventing hate among future generations. Research has repeatedly shown that kids do better in school when they don't have to worry about bullying. Our RFA policy not only makes kids feel safer; it is also a contributing factor to our kids' academic achievement.

But our work doesn't end there. We are also working with the United Federation of Teachers and DOE on the BRAVE -- Building Respect, Acceptance, and Voice Through Education -- campaign that raises awareness about bullying and engages the whole school community in combatting bullying, intimidation, and bias-based harassment.

This past summer, the City Council and other elected officials hosted our first ever Cyberbullying Summit with leaders in new media, technology and Internet safety. Facebook, Microsoft, MTV, Time Warner Cable, AT&T, and dozens of participants joined us at the educational forum to discuss this terrible growing online trend and ways to encourage responsible online behavior.

The UFT has also created a confidential anti-bullying hotline that students, parents and teachers can call for counseling and advice. If you or anyone you know is in need of help, please call (212) 709-3222 to access the hotline.

Being bullied should not be tolerated as a normal part of growing up. It is critical to reach our children before it is too late. As I spoke to students at the Harvey Milk School the other day, I realized the opportunities for our children is endless. To save a child's life is giving them hope to live and become a doctor, lawyer, police officer, and even the future president of the U.S.A. It is time for us to do our job and protect that hope.