Classroom-Blackboard Credit: maroke/Shutterstock.com

A federal judge has given the final sign-off to a settlement in a class action suit filed on behalf of a group of 23 New York City public school students who alleged the city didn’t do enough to prevent bullying in schools.

In their suit, filed in 2016, the students alleged that violence is “endemic” in New York City schools, particularly those that serve poor and predominantly minority neighborhoods, and they have been harmed either physically or verbally by fellow students and school staff.

When they tried to report incidents to city Department of Education staff, the students alleged, their reports were ignored or department staff were unavailable.

In March, the DOE and the plaintiffs brokered a settlement in which the department agreed to implement an electronic system to allow parents to report bullying incidents and track the progress of their reports, as well as to allow parents to transfer their kids to other schools if they were found to be bullying victims unless the bullies will no longer attend the victims’ school.

Also as part of the settlement, the DOE will approve any transfer request for victims of verbal abuse or corporal punishment by staff if it is found that it is no longer safe for the victim to attend the school.

In an order entered on Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis gave final approval to the settlement and denied a motion to intervene by the Legal Aid Society, which argued that the proposed settlement would prevent it from bringing “systemic, bullying-related claims” against the department in the future.

As a condition of the settlement, the DOE denied any wrongdoing. 

James Walden of Walden Macht & Haran, lead counsel for the plaintiffs, said the suit was the first he knew to address alleged systemic issues with bullying in schools.

DOE will report its compliance with the settlement over the next four years to Walden’s firm and to the court. By year four, Walden said, the department is required to be 80 percent in compliance.

Walden Macht attorneys Adam Cohen, Daniel Cohen, Johnson Lin, Catherine Sloan, Avni Patel and Diana Lee also worked on the case.

Assistant Corporation Counsel Marilyn Richter and Evan Schnittman appeared for the city in the case.

Following the settlement’s announcement, a Law Department spokesman told media outlets that the accord builds on anti-bullying programs that the department launched to “ensure safe and inclusive learning environments in every school building.”

In a statement, Legal Aid said the settlement gives the DOE a “broad, four year release from claims, without providing adequate relief to students who are bullied.”

“It includes some procedural improvements, but doesn’t include any new resources or staffing to support students or teachers as they try to address the trauma and mental health issues that both contribute to and result from bullying behavior,” the statement reads. “We call on DOE to dedicate resources to all students to address the underlying causes of bullying so that the behaviors will decrease while ensuring that all students are safe and supported in our schools.”