Jason Cianciotto is suing the Albert Shanker School on behalf of his gay son, who was bullied for his sexual orientation. Cianciotto alleges that while his adopted son endured horrendous, vile acts of bullying, the administration at the Astoria, NY school neglected its responsibilities and failed to protect his son from gender-based discrimination.
Cianciotto and his husband filed a lawsuit against the New York City Department of Education. The suit alleges that the Albert Shanker School for Visual and Performing Arts broke New York’s anti-bullying laws. The list of defendants in the lawsuit includes the Department of Education, the Board of Education of the city of New York, and specific administrators.
According to a report, Jason Cianciotto and his husband adopted their son – named D.S. in the lawsuit – in 2017. The boy had a troubled past and struggled with diagnoses of PTSD, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, epilepsy, and a number of learning disabilities caused by a brain tumor.
Legal documents outline D.S.’s difficult life leading up to his adoption. His mother was addicted to drugs and alcohol, and he was the victim of domestic abuse before being place into the child protection system.
After four years in the system, Jason Cianciotto and his husband adopted D.S. “His dream of being adopted and having a forever family and, on top of that, having a family of two dads that were so welcoming and accepting of him was finally coming true,” Cianciotto explained.
Soon after their union, D.S. came out to his parents. Keen on keeping him safe and open, Cianciotto and his husband began searching for the right school in the right district. The pair came across the Albert Shanker School for Visual and Performing Arts and believed it was the perfect home for their son’s education. It wasn’t.
“Shortly after coming home with us, he came out to us as gay,” Cianciotto admitted. “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.”
It wasn’t long before D.S. experienced another set of traumatic experiences, according to his father. Jason Cianciotto explained that the Albert Shanker School was “a hostile and dangerous environment” after their son came out to his teachers and friends. The “bullying, harassment based on his sexual orientation, and perceived gender identity began [right away],” according to Cianciotto.
Listed in the lawsuit are several examples of bullying and harassment perpetrated by students of the Intermediate school. D.S. was the target of homophobic slurs including “f—-t ass,” “gay boy,” and “p—y d–k sucking face.” He was also told that he would be “damned to hell by God because of his lifestyle.”
“We were shocked,” Jason Cianciotto admitted. “Living in New York City, we see this city and our state as a place that is a leader in progressive support for the LGBTQ community. Of all the things we were worried about, we were the least worried about the fact that he would be an out gay student in a New York City school. That presumption just turned out to be tragically wrong.”
Jason Cianciotto claims the school did nothing to stop the bullying. According to the lawsuit, “[the defendants] accused him of fabricating the harassment, blamed him for bringing the bullying on himself by being open about his sexuality and excused his bullies’ pronouncements that LGBT people are destined to burn in hell as a mere ‘difference of opinion’ that D.S. should learn to respect.”
“There’s a very clear difference between helping young people learn and understand and respect various religious beliefs and traditions and allowing there to be religious-based bullying and harassment,” Cianciotto explained to Business Insider.
Beyond his physical safety, the harassment and bullying became dangerous to D.S.’s mental health. “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,” according to Cianciotto. “Eventually, that self-harming turned into saying that he wanted to die by suicide.”
Even with the overwhelming evidence of bullying and harassment, the Albert Shanker School did nothing to prevent further attacks, the father says. The hurtful homophobic slurs allegedly transformed into brutal physical attacks. Cianciotto said his son was targeted and endured beating because of his sexual orientation. And “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.”
“Not only did they say that they couldn’t put him in a different class or reasonably ensure that the bullying would stop,” Jason Cianciotto continued. “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.’”
“Hearing your child say, ‘They won’t stop bullying me. I want to kill myself,’ it’s just so terrible,” Cianciotto admitted. “We were so afraid of our son continued to stay in that school that his life would be threatened.” After two years Cianciotto pulled D.S. out of the Albert Shank School and transferred him to Hunter’s Point Community Middle School. According to the fathers, the difference is “like night and day.”
“We realized just how important the principal and administration are in creating a safe space,” Cianciotto said. “There were and are tools available to respond and prevent bullying from happening.” In June, the fathers finally decided to sue the school and others involved for the clear violation of New York’s anti-bullying laws.
In addressing the allegations, a spokesperson for the New York City Department of Education said that they “are deeply troubling and there is absolutely zero tolerance for bullying or harassment of any kind in our schools.” The spokesperson continued, saying that “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.”
“We want to do everything we can to make sure that other kids like my son don’t experience this kind of bullying,” Cianciotto said of the lawsuit. He and his husband hope to make a difference and protect other children from enduring what their child was unfortunate enough to endure.