The Albert Shanker School for Visual and Performing Arts in Long island City, New York was a “dangerous and hostile” environment, according to Jason Cianciotto. (photo by Jason Cianciotto)
Jason Cianciotto and his husband are suing the New York City Department of Education (DoE), the Board of Education (BoE) for New York City Public Schools, and several employees at the school their adopted son attended between 2017 and 2019.
The school, Albert Shanker School for the Visual Performing Arts, seemed like the perfect fit for him. Cianciatto told the Business Insider,
Shortly after coming home with us, he came out to us as gay. So we thought that there was also a good chance that a school that focused on the performing arts might also have other students who were out or, at the very least, it would be a safe and welcoming environment for kids like my son.”
However, almost immediately the school was not a welcoming place for their adopted son, who will be referred to as ‘Daniel’ to protect his privacy. Speaking to Business Insider Cianciotto said,
“He came out to his classmates and teachers shortly after the school year began, and right away the bullying, harassment based on his sexual orientation, and perceived gender identity began.”
According to Business Insider “was allegedly called several homophobic slurs, including ‘faggot ass,’ ‘gay boy,’ and ‘pussy dick sucking face.’ He was ridiculed and was told that he was ‘damned to hell by God because of his lifestyle.’ He was also physically assaulted on several occasions.”
The abuse, as you can imagine, began to take its toll on Daniel,
“He started, for example, self-harming behavior, where he would bite himself, he would hit his head with his hand or hit his hand against a desk or a locker at school. He would poke his fingers in his eyes. Eventually, that self-harming turned into saying that he wanted to die by suicide.” – Jason Cianciotto
To make matters worse, once they tried to speak to the school about the incidents, senior staff at the school blamed Daniel for bringing the abuse on himself,
“We were shocked and horrified to hear her say that talking about homosexuality in middle school is not appropriate and that if my son just stopped talking about his sexual orientation or that he was getting adopted by two gay dads, then it wouldn’t be a problem,” -Jason Cianciotto
The school even went so far as to suggest that Daniel made up the bullying for attention. Other incidents were not further investigated for a variety of reasons,
“Even though it was confirmed that a student called him a faggot, the dean investigating it said that it wasn’t actually a bias incident because the students who said it didn’t have the contextual understanding to go to know what that meant,” – Jason Cianciatto.
School principal Alexander Enguiera did not respond to a request for an interview from Business Insider. In a May 2019 meeting also attended by the assistant principal and the seventh-grade dean, the family were basically told to find a different school for their son,
Not only did they say that they couldn’t put him in a different class or reasonably ensure that the bullying would stop, they also confronted me, saying that the parents of kids who had bullied him were putting pressure on the school and ask why it was that my son was getting ‘special attention,'” -Jason Cianciotto.
In a statement emailed to Business Insider, a spokesperson for the New York City DoE said,
“These allegations are deeply troubling and there is absolutely zero tolerance for bullying or harassment of any kind in our schools. Every student deserves to feel safe, welcomed, and affirmed in their school and we have invested in training and support to reform classroom culture, with a focus on inclusive policies and effective strategies to prevent bullying. The safety of our students is our number one priority and we will review the complaint and immediately investigate the claims,”
Cianciatto and his family want to make sure this doesn’t happen again to other children like Daniel,
“We want to do everything we can to make sure that other kids like my son don’t experience this kind of bullying,”
Today Daniel is thriving at his new school – in the same district – and Cianciatto says “the difference is night and day.”
Sources: Business Insider