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More Families Hope To Join Lawsuit Claiming DOE Isn't Dealing With School Bullying

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) -- More parents are hoping to join a class-action lawsuit announced Thursday that demands better training of Department of Education employees when it comes to dealing with bullying.

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn by Families for Excellent Schools and 10 New York City public school students and their families. It names the DOE and Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña as defendants, and seeks class-action status.

"Students cannot learn in educational environments where violence is commonplace,'' the lawsuit said. ``DOE's custom and practice of deliberate indifference has robbed and will continue to rob children of their chance to learn and succeed within the public school system.''

The lawsuit contends violence is on the rise in city public schools, and is particularly a problem in schools with higher populations of black and Latino students. It says the education department isn't enforcing its own regulations on how to deal with incidents of bullying and harassment, and says those regulations aren't adequate.

As CBS'2 Sonia Rincon reported, Monae Cintron, 13, said one of the worst times she was bullied was when she was in third grade.

"This kid was behind me and he was playing with scissors. And he cut my hair," Cintron said. She added that no disciplinary action was ever taken against the boy.

Cintron recently changed schools after another upsetting incident. She said bullies never seem to face consequences.

"It's a horrible feeling to know that no one understands what you're going through; that the bully can just bully you without any adults noticing and caring for you," Cintron said.

Cintron's mother, Maxine, is hoping to join the lawsuit, which demands better training of DOE employees when it comes to dealing with bullying.

"I pray that it will bring justice and open up a lot of parents' eyes, and give light to the good teachers who are there with a passion to help these kids gain a brighter future and not to do damage," Maxine Cintron said.

Other members of the 11 families already part of the lawsuit had disturbing stories of students and teachers traumatizing their kids.

"Our children all have been victims of violence in schools," one woman said. "And when we tried to get our children help, we were failed by the Department of Education."

"I feel that the teacher sets the tone for the class, and if the teacher is implementing behaviors of bullying that is an incentive for the children to follow," another parent said.

Jeremiah Kitteridge is chief executive officer for Families for Excellent Schools, which set up the Safe Schools Now campaign.

"New York City is facing a crisis of school violence, and the statistics are shocking," Kitteridge said.

Kittredge said there has been a recent uptick.

"In the last three weeks alone, four guns," he said.

Since March 14, four guns and a knife have been found in city schools brought in by students as young as 11 years old.

Kitteridge's group has supported charter schools in the past, he but insisted the issue is not a charter versus district school issue.

Fariña said student safety is a priority.

"I can assure parents that this is something we take seriously, and anytime something comes up we deal with it immediately," Fariña said.

Rincon noted that the lawsuit asks for better enforcement of the DOE's own policy. Fariña replied, "Lawsuits have a process to follow and we will follow that process."

The lawsuit is not seeking any financial damages, but is asking for change, such as the appointment of an independent monitor who can audit and make sure that the DOE is dealing with violence and bullying according to its own rules.

The lawsuit also calls for steps to make sure students like Monae Cintron don't ever have to deal with retaliation for coming forward.

When asked about school safety on Wednesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio said crime had been declining in schools. ``If you look at the facts, school safety is doing a very good job at continuing a trend that started in the previous administration, continuing to drive down crime in our schools,'' he said.

(TM and © Copyright 2016 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2016 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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