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Fighting Bullying in Schools and Online

Father Shares Son’s Tragic Suicide Story

At Hofstra Conference

The Long Island Youth Safety Coalition, in association with the Nassau County District Attorney’s Office, held its first Internet Safety and Bullying Prevention Conference on Dec. 2 at Hofstra University. Several educators from the county’s school districts and other community organizations attended the event which focused on addressing both bullying that happens in schools and online. Registration for the conference was so popular that it was eventually capped to 320, with a waitlist that exceeded 100.  

A conference on bullying was first proposed last year by members of the Nassau County Executive’s Youth Council. This Council is composed of student representatives from throughout the county.  

The conference featured keynote speaker John Halligan, whose son Ryan Patrick committed suicide in 2003 due to bullying at his Vermont middle school and online. He gave a motivational talk that encouraged attendees to properly address bullying schools. Halligan, a Farmingdale native, has shared Ryan’s story over 900 times to nearly 450 schools throughout the United States and Canada.

“There is no greater human pain than for a parent to lose their child, but Ryan’s story is not unique,” Halligan said. “The key ingredient is the attitude of the people on top. If your superintendent doesn’t think bullying is an important issue, then it won’t be addressed.”     

A year after his son’s death, Halligan pressured Vermont legislators to pass the Bullying Prevention Policy Law. New York has since followed suit, passing the Dignity of Students Act last June, making it the 43rd state to pass an anti-bullying bill.  

The event also included lectures by the Nassau and Suffolk County Police Departments and members of the District Attorney’s Office on the Dignity of Students Act and other legal issues surrounding cyberbullying and sexting.

Additionally, workshops on bullying prevention and intervention programs were given by organizations such as the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Long Island, Peacemakers, and the Long Island Professional Educators Network.  Several of the workshops focused on bullying prevention in middle schools, the demographic to which bullying is most prevalent in schools and online.

“Peacemakers is a violence prevention program for grades four-eight. Bullying is an important issue within violence prevention,” Dr. Jeremy Shapiro of Peacemakers said. “We chose to focus on this age group because previous research has shown that those are very hard kids to change their behaviors.   

Along with other organizations, a small number of young people were present at the conference. Students from the Westhampton Beach School, the Nassau County Executive’s Youth Council, and the Nassau County Youth Board’s Youth Adult Participation Project held a seminar that taught educators how to use Facebook, Twitter, and Formspring. Meanwhile, theater group Stories of Substance performed skits regarding bullying.

While the young people present thought the conference’s overall motive was noble, some students felt that the lack of their demographic representation was an essential factor overlooked.

“I would have liked not just students talking to other students, but more students talking to educators. They are the ones that are dealing with this firsthand, not the educators. To get their feedback would bring more impact on what works and doesn’t work,” Xavier Rodney, a student actor of Stories of Substances, said.

Despite the lack of more student participants, attendees and organizers were positively motivated with the conference’s many offerings to more assertively address bullying and cyberbullying in schools.

“It’s our job to save lives,” Assistant District Attorney René Fietcher said at the close of the conference. “Take the tools of what you learned today and do really good work.”