Assembly Passes Dignity for All Students Act

From the desk of Assemblyman Charles D. Lavine
April 17, 2009

I am pleased to announce the New York State Assembly’s passage of legislation I supported to help provide students with a safe learning environment free of harassment and discrimination. The Dignity for All Students Act promotes civility among students and between students and teachers and will help create an atmosphere where the focus is on learning and distractions are minimized.

Students should never have to worry about threats or occurrences of bullying, harassment or discrimination when they are in school. It is our job to ensure that every learning environment is safe, supportive and welcoming to all students. The Dignity for All Students Act will help create this kind of positive environment.

The legislation defines harassment in schools as the “creation of a hostile environment by conduct or by verbal threats, intimidation or abuse that has, or would have, the effect of unreasonably and substantially interfering with a student’s educational performance, opportunities or benefits, or mental, emotional or physical well-being.” The legislation prohibits discrimination on the basis of a student’s actual or perceived race, color, weight, national origin, ethnicity, religion, religious practice, disability, sexual orientation or gender.

The bill requires school districts to establish anti-harassment and discrimination policies, establish guidelines for training school personnel and developing nondiscriminatory instructional and counseling methods, and to raise staff sensitivity and awareness and enable staff members to respond to harassment.

Furthermore, the bill requires the state education commissioner to create a procedure allowing incidents of discrimination and harassment on school grounds or at school functions to be reported to the state education department on an annual basis. Reports must include specific information about the nature of the incident, including the types of bias involved. Finally, the bill provides protection for people who report incidents of discrimination and harassment.

As we see more and more often in the news, the effects of school bullying are dangerous and harmful for everyone involved. This legislation will give schools the tools to intervene, teach our youth respect, and allow students to learn in an environment free from discrimination, bias and harassment.

In part, the Dignity for All Students Act was introduced in response to the large number of harassed and stigmatized students skipping school and engaging in high-risk behaviors such as drug use, alcohol abuse, and perhaps even suicide. No teen should be pushed to such extremes because of an intolerable environment in his or her school. The Assembly has consistently worked to remove the threat of violence in our schools and this important measure will go a long way toward creating a nurturing environment and promoting safety and civility in the classroom and among students.