A Bronx teen charged with fatally stabbing a high school classmate and slashing another in what he said was an act of self-defense is suing the city’s Department of Education, saying school officials failed to protect him from fellow students who tormented him for years with homophobic slurs and physical attacks.
In September 2017, then-12th-grader Abel Cedeno lashed out with a switchblade against fellow students at the Urban Assembly School for Wildlife Conservation, Matthew McCree and Ariane LaBoy, who Cedeno said were physically assaulting him in a classroom with two teachers present, according to authorities.
McCree died in the altercation and LaBoy was seriously injured. Cedeno was charged with manslaughter and assault and remains free on bail.
Before his release, Cedeno had a three-month stretch on Rikers Island and Tom Shanahan, his lawyer in the civil suit, said his client felt safer jailed among accused violent felons than he did in the hands of the Education Department.
“We sincerely hope that the attention given to Abel’s situation will lead to greater protection for other children who are facing unrelenting bullying in what is supposed to be a safe place,” the attorney said.
Cedeno alleges in his suit that the fatal encounter was the culmination of six years of abuse by fellow students, to which he says teachers and staff often turned a blind eye.
The DOE shuttered the school early last year.
“Our students deserve to feel safe and supported in our schools, and any allegation of bullying must be treated with the utmost seriousness,” DOE spokeswoman Miranda
Barbot said in a written statement. “Bullying can impact a student’s social and emotional well-being, and we’re committed to preventing and addressing it in our schools.”
Cedeno says that he and his mother first approached DOE staff about him getting bullied when he was 12 and repeatedly complained about bullies, but said the treatment didn’t stop, that the bullies themselves often evaded discipline and that staff didn’t take action.
In one example, Cedeno alleges that he once approached a guidance counselor about the bullying but that the counsel told him it’s “not such a big deal” and that he should “get over it.”
“We tried to see what was going on but he would not tell us,” said Cedeno’s sister Vanessa, who declined to give her last name. “We go to the school to get help but there wasn’t any help at all. The school would say there is nothing going on.”
She added: “No child should have to go to school and go through this. You go to school to learn and not to be bullied over your sexual orientation or anything.”