The parents of a boy who took his own life are pressuring lawmakers to act before the end of the legislative session to pass a bill requiring school districts to notify parents if their child is involved in bullying.
In April 2015, Jacobe Taras, a 13-year-old boy from Moreau, New York, killed himself.
His parents did not know the extent of how Jacobe was being bullied at school. They believe if Jacobe’s school had notified them, Jacobe would still be alive today.
As the legislative session winds down –lawmakers typically break for the year at the end of June – the Taras family is appealing to Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Governor Andrew Cuomo, both Democrats, to push for a vote on the bill.
Richard Taras is Jacobe’s father.
“If the parents don’t know, how do you help the child? And when did we stop letting parents be involved with their own children? When did we begin to give 13-year-olds the ability to say ‘I don’t want my parents to know.’”
In May, a jury found the South Glens Falls school district, where Jacobe attended middle school, negligent, but said the negligence was not a significant contributor to Jacobe’s death.
Jacobe’s Law would require schools to notify the parents or guardians if their child is being bullied or is bullying. It passed the Republican-led state Senate unanimously. It is currently stalled in the Assembly Education Committee.
The bill’s lead sponsor is Capital Region Republican State Senator Jim Tedisco. A former longtime Assemblymember, Tedisco is confident that if Jacobe’s Law moved to the floor for a vote, it would pass.
“I stood up and asked all my colleagues, 150 of them, ‘raise your hand if you do not want to know if your child is being bullied in school or bullying.’ Not one of my colleagues in the Assembly raised their hand,” said Tedisco. “So what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. If they want to be notified and they think it’s important enough, they should pass Jacobe’s Bill in the Assembly and notify parents that this is happening.”
In 2010, the Dignity For All Students Act was signed into law by Gov. David Paterson. The law provides resources to schools to prevent harassment of students and school employees and requires districts to report bullying to the State Education Department. But Taras says DASA doesn’t go far enough. He’s is accusing Manhattan Democrat Danny O’Donnell, a member of the Assembly Education Committee and author of DASA, of playing politics with Jacobe’s Law.
“This is supposed to be bipartisan. Not ‘Those Republicans.’ You know, and that’s really what it’s come down to. Very partisan politics. They don’t want the Republicans to be known, even though a Democrat is sponsoring it in the Assembly,” said Taras.
O’Donnell’s office did not respond to a request for comment on the Taras letter.
The Assembly sponsor of Jacobe’s Law is Albany Democrat Patricia Fahy. Fahy has amended the bill to address concerns by requiring school districts take safety issues involving the student into account before notifying parents, including LGBTQ issues. Added language would also ensure that conversations at the school involving the student be documented.
Asked by Senator Tedisco at a January legislative hearing, State Education Commissioner Mary Ellen Elia said she would support the notifying of parents, but added more should be done.
“It’s not just your child was bullied, it’s what are the issues that are causing this to happen, and I would suggest to go even further. In the environment that we are in with social media, this is a major issue,” said Elia. “Because parents don’t even know that these things are happening on social media and carried into the school. So I’m very focused on making sure parents are part of all of that, I would support parents being notified, but it’s much more than that. I want to make sure that we have resources for schools so they can really address the issue.”