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More bullying cases ending up in Family Court

Mike Desmond
The Anti-Bullying Task Force is searching for answers.

Bullying is a problem in society and in schools, and too many incidents wind up in the courts. So the system is organizing against bullying with a community-wide initiative to better handle the problem.

The Anti-Bullying Task Force met Tuesday at the Buffalo Science Museum. The task force was set up to look for more ways to deal with the problem and includes an array of groups and agencies, including the county's juvenile justice system, Buffalo Public Schools and two dozen local partners like parent groups, law enforcement and Child Protective Services.

Bullying has long been a problem, but the rise of social media and cyberbullying has changed it into something much more formidable. Erie County County Youth Board Director Ben Hilligas said bullying is often a reflection of other things going on.

"It's kind of just the tip of the iceberg and that beneath the surface, there's days, weeks, months worth of bullying that's happening in the virtual space in social media and other places," Hilligas said, "and then the reason that this is a collaborative between the juvenile justice system and the school system is because often times those incidents can escalate to things that show up in the family court system."

That is why Family Court Judge Brenda Freedman is a key figure in this effort. She said the rise of cyber-bullying makes it so much easier to bully people because you can hide behind the computer keyboard.

Credit Buffalo Public Schools

"Now you can hide behind both the remote distance. You can hide behind sort of the anonymity, per se, of social media," Freedman said. "And when you're talking about young people, you're also talking about a period in their development where they're trying to figure out what group they belong to. Identity is huge. So they're trying to figure out, who's us and who's them."

It is generally believed cyberbullying is much more of a problem among girls, particularly those in middle school. While it is a problem in every school and every district, Buffalo probably has the largest problem as the largest school district in the area.

Associate Schools Superintendent Eric Rosser said bullying can interfere with the push for student achievement.

"We're always looking for the root causes that have led to students engaging in bullying," Rosser said. "We have looked at why students have been bullied, what ways can be better support them. We're not looking at this from the standpoint that bullying has existed since the dawn of time, since Cain and Abel. We're always looking at it from the standpoint of, how can we address the current needs of our children?"

Teacher and consultant Ronna Glickman said school districts have also fought back by realizing what goes on outside the school can be reflected in bullying inside the school. That is why there has to be a push against the out-of-school bullying.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.