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Just when you thought the New York City school system couldn’t get any crazier, a judge has ruled that city taxpayers might be on the hook for one girl’s $40,000 private school tuition.
The 12-year-old girl, who attended PS 6 on the Upper East Side (one of the city’s higher-rated schools), has a learning disability and, according to her parents, was tormented in class constantly. When the school did nothing about it, her parents pulled her out of the public school and sent her to the Summit School in Queens, a state-approved private school.
Now, they have asked the Department of Education to reimburse them for the $40,000 they spent on Summit, and Brooklyn federal Judge Jack Weinstein agreed with them. He ruled that the girl’s “educational rights” were violated, and that the city should be on the hook for the girl’s private school education.
“When a school fails to take reasonable steps to prevent such objectionable harassment of a student, it has denied her an educational benefit protected by statute,” he wrote. Every child in New York is legally guaranteed a “free and appropriate public education,” a right that was violated when PS 6’s principal, Lauren Fontana, failed to address the bullying.
For now, Weinstein has asked the DOE to investigate what kind of bullying took place and whether the school took any action against the girl’s tormenters. That information will determine what kind of payment the family will receive from the DOE.
If the ruling is upheld, it could eventually cost the city millions of dollars. While the Department of Education already reimburses some families for private school tuition if they can prove that the public school system does not serve their children adequately, it has never before awarded money to families based on bullying.
It’s the kind of case that combines several hot-button issues, especially new awareness of bullying, which has received increased attention in the past year. While it’s tempting to wonder whether this is just a case of your average UES parent overreacting, it’s important to remember that bullying is a serious issue that can have tragic effects. According to studies by Yale University, students who are bullied are 2 to 9 times more likely to consider suicide, and since bullying usually begins at school, it’s important to address early.