ELMIRA, N.Y. (WETM) – A report recently obtained by 18 News, revealed the Elmira City School District reported 12 incidents of bullying and assault to the state. Yet, 18 News has been sent over 25 videos of, what seems to be, physical assault on the grounds of Elmira City schools.

In an interview conducted in Jan. 2022, a seventh-grader in the Elmira City School District said bullying happens multiple times per day, every single day.

“I don’t want to go to school because I’m nervous I’m going to get beat up again,” he said.

More than 25 videos, showing students getting punched, kicked, spit on, wrestled to the ground, and more, were sent to 18 News by students during the 2021-2022 school year. Many of them, like the seventh-grader, said they were afraid of going to school.

18 News filed a freedom of information request to see the district’s bullying report that all New York schools are required to submit. That report, obtained this past week, states that the Elmira City School district reported a total of 12 incidents of bullying and assault for the 2021-2022 school year.

Five incidents of bullying and seven incidents of assault were reported, for the entire school district comprised of eight elementary schools, two middle schools, and one high school.

In a year-long investigation, 18 News spoke with several parents and students during the 2021-2022 school year, about the bullying they claim is going on within this school district. Students and parents describe the incidents that have occurred in Elmira City Schools.

“I just got punched in the stomach so I fell to the ground and then they stomped on me, kicked me,” said a seventh-grader, who had a black eye when he was being interviewed.

“I was getting chased and I was trying to run away from her… then I got stopped and then punched…I blacked out and started balling my eyes out…it’s just messed up… some people end up in the hospital even,” said one ninth-grader.

One mother, getting emotional when describing the time her son was hospitalized, “The boy swung him and hit his head into the wall…choked him…And he was out of school for a week because of it. He got a concussion.”

“The school… played it off l like it was nothing…Even his doctor said he doesn’t understand why the school didn’t press charges on that kid,” said Erin Collins, mother of two kids in the Elmira City School District.

All the parents 18 News interviewed, reported these incidents.

New York State law requires all public schools, to document incidents occurring on school property through the School Safety and the Educational Climate (SSEC) Summary Data Collection Form. Incidents are broken down into categories, two of which are assault and bullying.

Under New York State Law, a school must report an incident of assault, if the act committed by a person 10 years of age or older… would constitute a felony. The first listed felony, under Article 120 of the Penal Law, says “A person is guilty of assault in the third degree when… a person causes physical injury to another person… with intent.”

“Two seventh graders held him down and started pounding on him… This isn’t the first time and it probably won’t be the last time… I fear for his safety a lot for his safety,” said Stacy Sempler, whose son is in the Elmira City School District.

Under New York State law, a school must report an incident of bullying, if there is a creation of a hostile environment by threats, intimidation, or abuse that interferes with a student’s educational performance, or mental, and physical well-being, or would cause physical injury to a student and cause a student to fear for his or her physical safety.

“One individual started a rumor about her…Other people who are threatening her at school, threatening to have friends of theirs beat her up… and she don’t know when it’s going to be coming,” said John Collins describing his daughter’s experience in an Elmira City School.

“He doesn’t want to go to certain classes or he doesn’t want to go to school at all…because certain kids are in his class…So no. He’s not getting a good education,” said Sempler.

18 News reached out to the Elmira City School District Superintendent, Hillary Austin, who would not agree to an interview for this story. In a statement, Austin said they “Investigated… over 300 discipline conduct referrals in areas of student altercations as well as bullying…that did not meet the criteria for a…report…but did require discipline consequences.”

The full statement can be found at the bottom of this article.

The statement also outlined that “In addition to our internal processes, an independent reviewer that is not an employee of the Elmira City School District works with district staff to evaluate the specifics of each potential report and helps determine if it meets the state-provided thresholds…Of the referrals that fell under altercations, 7 met the criteria for the state category of assault…5 met the criteria under the…category of discrimination/harassment/bullying.”

The full statement regarding more than 25 videos obtained by 18 News can be found at the bottom of this article.

In an additional statement regarding more than 25 videos obtained by 18 News, Austin said, “The district is unable to comment on individual student discipline. The district invites students and/or parents who have videos or documentation that they would like the district to be made aware of, to reach out to their building principal or district administration.”

“I’ve had meetings with the principal, the assistant principal, the guidance counselor…I don’t trust that the teachers will keep my daughters safe… I’ve told her she’s going to have to defend herself,” said the mother of a daughter in the Elmira City School District, Shanika Morgan, in an interview in Nov. 2021.

In a Nov. of 2021 interview with Superintendent Austin, 18 News tried to show her the videos of assault happening in her schools, but she refused to look at the screen.

“I went to the principal a few times. He hasn’t really done anything, so I haven’t been to the principal’s office in a while,” said the seventh-grader.

New York State law explicitly states, “Whether a student is being bullied…or has witnessed another student being bullied… he or she needs to feel empowered…reporting such an incident to school faculty and or staff,” (Education Law §13[1][b]).

“It seems like every time I go to the school to talk to somebody about it, they want to just beat around the bush we’re going to take care of it we’ll straighten it out…they don’t even give us the option to write a report to this person they’ve never told us we can write a report,” said Elmira City School District parent, John Collins.

New York State law requires each school to provide all students, school employees, and parents with a notification of the process by which they may report harassment, bullying, and discrimination (Education Law §13[1][k]).

“They have not given me any paperwork, they have not told me about any paperwork. nothing,” said Stacy Sempler.

New York State law also requires school employees who witness or are told about harassment, or bullying, to notify the principal or superintendent and to file a written report within two days (Education Law §13[1][c]).

The seventh-grader 18 News interviewed said teachers had seen him getting bullied. When asked if the teachers had done anything about it, he said, “no.”

“They have not called, me or my husband about this fight…She said oh I can’t tell you about the fight…You should’ve been able to tell me what happened because my son has bruises all over him, scratches, and a black eye,” said Stacy Sempler.

Child psychologist Nora Balederian says bullying can impact children in many different ways.

“It causes depression and it causes fear and it causes terror…but it can also interfere I think with everything else…With the ability to learn to retain information, to even have dreams about, ‘What am I gonna be when I grow up,’…That gets stultified when you’re living in terror,” said Balederian.

All parents and students are asking for, is for the school to do something about it.

“I give my daughter credit for going to school day in and day out and going through this. I can’t imagine. I can’t…I just wish they cared more.” said Erin Collins, almost in tears.

On Nov. 15 and 16, 18 News once again invited the schools’ Superintendent, Hillary Austin, to interview, with the option to put the entire interview, unedited, on our website. 18 News, again, invited her to see the videos before the story aired. All of our requests were turned down.

Full statement from Elmira City School District Superintendent Hillary Austin regarding more than 25 videos of, what seems to be, physical assault sent to 18 News by students:

“The District is unable to comment on individual student discipline.  The District invites students and/or parents who have videos or documentation that they would like the district to be made aware of, to reach out to their Building Principal or District Administration.  New York State provides specific criteria that determine what is categorized as a VADIR report, to be included in the SSEC report, and there are multiple factors that school districts are required to investigate when handling each disciplinary conduct referral/incident.  Video recordings are one piece of evidence that administrators examine when determining disciplinary consequences that are appropriate for the action.  We would agree that any video of a student altercation can be upsetting and difficult to watch.  When these instances happen in our schools, administrators follow the process outlined in the district code of conduct to administer appropriate consequences.”

Full statement from Elmira City School District Superintendent Hillary Austin:

“The Elmira City School District Administrative Teams work collaboratively with students, staff, and families to investigate incidents and concerns and follow protocols and procedures outlined within board policy, the District’s Code of Conduct, and the New York State Education Department. 

In 2021-22, our secondary administrative teams (Broadway Academy, Ernie Davis Academy, and Elmira High School) investigated and administered consequences for over 300 discipline conduct referrals, in the areas of student altercations as well as Discrimination/Harassment/Bullying, that did not meet the criteria for a VADIR (Violent and Disruptive Incident Reports) but did require discipline consequences to be administered.  Facts of each individual situation were gathered and compared against the state criteria for each incident and consequences were given in accordance with the District Code of Conduct.  The State Education Department has very specific criteria that districts are required to follow when reporting VADIRs. 

When entering potential VADIRs into the state system, the state reporting system assists districts in verifying what is considered to be a reportable incident for SSEC reporting purposes.  In addition to our internal processes, an independent reviewer that is not an employee of the Elmira City School District works with district staff to evaluate the specifics of each potential report and helps determine if it meets the state provided thresholds for a VADIR.  As identified in the SSEC (School Safety and Educational Climate) report from the State Education Department, of the referrals that fell under altercations, 7 met the criteria for the State category of assault.  Of the referrals under Discrimination/Harassment, and Bullying, 5 met the criteria under the VADIR category of Discrimination/Harassment/Bullying. 

We encourage any student or family member who has a concern about their student to reach out to their Building Principal or District Administration for follow up and support.”