The mother of a teenager who committed suicide last year after he was bullied at his Bay Ridge school is putting all of her energy behind legislation aimed at addressing the growing problem of bullying in the U.S.
In fact, Maureen Fitzpatrick played an important role in crafting the legislation, according to a spokesperson for U.S. Rep. Dan Donovan, the bill’s sponsor.
Fitzpatrick’s son Danny Fitzpatrick, a former Holy Angels Catholic Academy student, hanged himself in the attic of the family’s Staten Island home in August 2016. He left behind a heart-wrenching suicide note in which he detailed being bullied during his time at the school.
The grieving mother attended a recent press conference to urge passage of Danny’s Law, a bill Donovan is sponsoring in her late son’s name.
Under the legislation, a task force would be created by the president to develop anti-bullying measures for schools. The task force members would include teachers, guidance counselors, psychologists, parents and kids who have been bullied.
“Danny’s Law seeks solutions for our nation’s bullying epidemic by creating protocols for educators, parents and students to dare to care and end the silence,” said Fitzpatrick, who has become a leading anti-bullying advocate. “With the policies that come from Danny’s Law, we can have positive interventions and a safe environment to help both bullies and victims. A task force of experts taking a look at the problem and offering solutions within and beyond the educational system is the right way forward.”
Donovan said he drafted the legislation because he was deeply moved by the Fitzpatrick tragedy.
“We can’t bring Danny back, but we can honor his life by preventing this type of tragedy from happening to another child and family,” Donovan said in a statement. “Danny’s family is incredibly brave to channel their grief into action. There isn’t one perfect solution, but Danny’s Law is a first step to creating a comprehensive strategy to tackle bullying nationwide.”
The task force would hold hearings and then issue a report containing recommendations on how to recognize and stop bullying. The panel would also make recommendations on policy changes.
Donovan’s bill has been endorsed by the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT).
“Danny’s Law gives us an opportunity to come together, identify the best ways to tackle bullying and then share them with parents and educators across the nation. By coming together, we can identify the best tools to help individual students and the most effective techniques to change a school’s culture,” UFT President Michael Mulgrew said in a statement.
AFT President Randi Weingarten said Danny’s Law is a sensible approach. “Bullying is pervasive in all areas of the country, and this legislation should pass overwhelmingly on a bipartisan basis,” she stated.
Bullying is a growing problem in schools in New York and across the nation, Donovan said.
More than three quarters of the children in grades 6-12 who responded to a New York City school survey reported that students bully and intimidate their fellow students, Donovan said.
The effect on families is devastating, experts said.
Shortly after the tragic death of Danny Fitzpatrick, his sister Eileen Fitzpatrick started a GoFundMe page to raise money to help her parents pay for his funeral.
Eileen Fitzpatrick wrote on GoFundMe that the funds left over after the funeral expenses were paid would be donated to an organization that raises awareness of the effects of bullying on children and works to prevent suicide.
“We have every intention to help other families never go through what we are going through,” she wrote.
The issue of bullying is also getting a great deal of attention at the city level.
Councilmember Mark Treyger (D-Coney Island-Gravesend-Bensonhurst) is sponsoring a bill with Councilmembers Daniel Dromm (D-East Elmhurst) and Mark Levine (D-Morningside Heights) that would require the Department of Education to provide the council with up-to-date data twice a year on bullying in city schools.
The bill was the subject of a hearing by the Education Committee.
The legislation will help the city keep track of how bullying trends start and whether parents are being informed of any bullying complaints involving their children, Treyger said.
Treyger, who taught high school history before entering politics, said his legislation is needed now more than ever.
“As a former educator, I’ve seen firsthand the physical, emotional and psychological impact that bullying can have on students and families,” Treyger said in a statement. “My new legislation is designed to help us learn how bullying begins, where bullying persists and whether or not schools have sufficient resources to tackle school climate issues. The more we know about bullying, the better prepared we are to stop it immediately.”