NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — The deadly stabbing inside a classroom at a Bronx high school on Wednesday, has many wondering about anti-bullying efforts in city schools.
The suspect said he was the target of verbal and physical abuse, and took revenge.
As CBS2’s Tony Aiello reported, there were red flags about safety concerns at the Urban Assembly School for Wildlife Conservation — which shares space with P.S. 67 — that became a homicide scene.
An annual survey showed that just 55 percent of students feel safe in the hallways and cafeteria, and 92 percent of teachers reported that student bullying is an issue.
“I’ve been bullied here a lot and had to fight my own battles,” one student said.
He told reporters he’s not aware of anti-bullying resources even though the school’s ‘comprehensive education plan’ said every student goes through the city’s ‘respect for all’ anti-bullying program.
The administration defended efforts to improve the school environment.
“The school under this principal has really focused on providing social emotional support to students, and recognizes the importance of social emotional learning to help students feel comfortable and safe,” Deputy Schools Chancellor, Elizabeth Rose said.
Still, crisis came, and it was deadly.
Accused killer Abel Cedeno told police he was bullied verbally and physically.
Neighbors can’t believe the boy in handcuffs was the same young man who held the door open for people in his Bronx apartment building.
“It almost made me cry,” Olga Camacho said, “It’s a big tragedy. Should have never happened, and I believe the school should have taken care of the situation a lot sooner.”
As CBS2’s Jessica Layton reported, Camacho is referencing allegations that Cedeno had been bullied by various student since the beginning of the school year based on his sexual orientation.
Police don’t believe he ever reported the abuse to school officials, which doesn’t surprise former city school psychologist Dr. Izzy Kalman.
“Many kids realize that if they do tell, they become snitches, and they’re going to be in trouble with peers,” Kalman said.
The chancellor’s office would not share specific information about the number of bullying classes at the Bronx school and how it compares to others.
Dr. Kalman said even if Cedeno had sought help.
“Sometimes the school intervention escalates hostilities,” Dr. Kalman said.
Kalman said kids need caring adults to help them with these issues.
Cedeno’s mother has been in Puerto Rico. Sources said his brother — in his 20s — has been acting as guardian.
The Department of Education said school staff are required to report any bullying they see. All reported incidents are investigated and addressed.
Safety officers have since wheeled metal detectors into the school, but some parents say it was too little too late.
“The kids were asking for metal detectors last year, because I know someone who didn’t go to the school got in with a weapon. So they were asking for metal detectors since last year and were told no. It wasn’t until someone was killed they got metal detectors,” Uneek Valentin said.
The incident has re-ignited a debate about what to do about violence in the schools and whether more metal detectors are the answers.
Presently, there are only 88 detectors for 1,800 schools.
“After yesterday’s incident we’re going to take a look and evaluate what goes on throughout the school system” NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill said.
As more and more weapons have been confiscated, parents and union officials have called on the mayor to put detection systems in more schools. It’s a sticky wicket. The mayor has wanted fewer, the union fought him, and civil rights groups say detection devices create a hostile environment, stigmatize students, and make them feel like they aren’t trusted.
Many parents want the protection.
“If you’re going to have high school kids and junior high school kids with little kids, have a metal detector. Know what they’re bringing into school. This don’t make no sense. You got to worry about your kid,” Rita Taylor said.
“If there were metal detectors, what happened yesterday never would have happened. It wouldn’t have happened,” Jazlynn Tolentino said.
“I think they need more people to come in and counsel the children about the things they’re dealing with. Detectors aren’t going to do anything if they don’t mediate or do something different,” Nancy Lee added. “They still can get things in no matter what. The kids are very slick nowadays.
The stabbing came up at a hearing of the City Council’s civil rights committee on Thursday, WCBS 880’s Alex Silverman reported.
Councilman Danny Drum said if the reports about bullying are true, increased security will never get to the root of the problem.
“You know, I honestly believe that metal detectors cannot prevent bigotry,” he told Silverman, adding that education can.
Drum urged officials from the City Human Rights Commission to do more in schools. The commission is already dealing with a spike in reports of discriminatory harassment citywide.
“In 2016, for example, as compared to 2015, we saw an increase of 480 percent,” one member said.
Drum asked Commission Chief of Staff Lauren Elpjhant, “can we get you to the school?”
“Well, I don’t want to say. I’m not sure about the specifics of this incident,” she replied.
Drum said he it’s his understanding there has been no anti-bullying training at the Bronx school.