After a student who said he had been bullied stabbed a classmate to death, the mayor promised to make it easier for students who feel unsafe or bullied to transfer schools. Families said that's not what's happening and we've learned the school system does not track transfer requests. NY1 Education Reporter Lindsey Christ, who's been combing through her newly granted Freedom of Information request, has this exclusive story.
10-year-old Lance Rodriguez has been having a hard time at school.
"These kids keep bullying me, I don't like it," he said. "Especially when they are saying things about my background. You see, I'm Hispanic and they are harassing me for that."
His father Neal wants Lance to transfer out of PS 146 in Howard Beach — a process known as a safety transfer.
"I just need a new start by going to a different school," the boy said.
But Lance's dad says he can't get in touch with anyone.
He says he filed a report with the Department of Education about the bullying more than a month ago — and when he followed up with a call, he was told somebody would get back to him.
"No one calls me back," the father said. "No one calls me back."
Mayor Bill de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina pledged to take harassment even more seriously, after a Bronx high school student who said he'd been bullied for years - and complained about it — stabbed a classmate to death in September. A month later, the city said any student who has been bullied automatically can get a safety transfer.
"We will work with the family to identify alternative options," said Deputy Schools Chancellor Elizabeth Rose.
Last winter, NY1 filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act asking the Education Department for for data on safety transfers.
After 10 months, the department finally admitted to us that it does not know how many students request such transfers, how many requests are denied, and how many students reject the transfers they're offered.
"That's shocking and hugely problematic," said Dawn Yuster, Advocates for Children of New York. "The fact that they are saying that they're not tracking when students, families are requesting transfers. It just seems unfathomable that that is even possible."
Officials say they only know how many students actually transfer for safety reasons — 1,513 in the last school year.
Experts say without more information, it will be difficult to track the progress of reforms and hold anyone accountable for change.
"How can you even evaluate it if you don't have the full context, if you don't have data in terms of the number of students that actually requested transfers," Yuster said.
Meanwhile, advocates say many students like Lance Rodriguez feel abandoned.
"Every day of school I say in my head 'Should I go to school today? No! I can't have these kids bulling me my whole life.'"
"Yeah he's depressed," the boy's father said.