Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Dignity for All Students Act

Although many of us already know that this is now a New York State law, it has come to my attention that many do not actually know what the law entails. Speak Up Albany is here to do just that, and this post may serve as a quick reference guide for you.  Other states who do not yet have a law, they need to follow suit.

Summary: This law was signed into law by the Governor on September 8, 2010. It will address bullying motivated by weight, gender, sexual identity and expression, race, religion, national origin, and disability. It requires bullying to be reported to the New York State Department of Education, and will force policies to be developed to prevent and handle biased violence/hate. It requires training for school staff, including administrators and classroom curricula material. This law does not address cyberbullying, and it only covers public school students. 

The law states it will afford public school students an environment free of discrimination and harassment (including bullying, taunting or intimidation). Their definition of Harassment means the creation of a hostile environment by conduct or 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, mental or emotional or physical well-being, conduct, verbal threats, intimidation or abuse that reasonably causes or would be expected to cause a student to fear for his or her physical safety. That no student shall be subjected to harassment by employees or students, nor discriminated against; and that any such policies created include instructional and counseling methods and requiring at least one staff member at each school to be thoroughly trained to handle human relations in the areas of race, color, weight, national origin, ethnic group, religion and its practices, disability, sexual orientation, gender or sex. The Commissioner's responsibilities may include development of model policies and to the extent possible, direct services, to school districts related to preventing discrimination and harassment and to fostering an environment in each school where all children can learn free of manifestations of bias. An age-appropriate version of the policy shall be included in the code of conduct. That any incidents of harassment or discrimination be reported to the NYS Department of Education at least on an annual basis. This law also provides for the protection of people who report discrimination or harassment to school officials, the commissioner, or to law enforcement authorities, or initiates, testifies, participates or assists in any formal or informal proceedings shall have immunity from any civil liability that may arise from the making of such report and no school district or employee shall take, request or cause a retaliatory action against such person. That Section 801-a of the education law, was amended to read as follows: S 801-a. Instruction in civility, citizenship and character education. The regents shall ensure that the course of instruction in grades kindergarten through twelve includes a component on civility, citizenship and character education. Such component shall instruct students on the principles of honesty, tolerance, personal responsibility, respect for others, observance of laws and rules, courtesy, dignity and other traits which will enhance the quality of their experiences in, and contributions to, the community. Tolerance, respect for others, and dignity, shall include awareness and sensitivity to discrimination or harassment and civility in the relations of people of different races, weights, national origins, ethnic groups, religions and religious practices, mental or physical abilities, sexual orientations, genders and sexes. A minimum suspension period, for students who repeatedly are substantially disruptive of the educational process or substantially interfere with the teacher's authority over the classroom, provided that the suspending authority may reduce such period on a case by case basis to be consistent with any other state and federal law. The definition for "repeatedly are substantially disruptive" shall be determined in accordance with the regulations of the commissioner; a minimum suspension period for acts that would qualify the pupil to be defined as a violent pupil pursuant to paragraph a of subdivision two-a of section thirty-two hundred fourteen of this chapter, provided that the suspending authority may reduce such period on a case by case basis to be consistent with any other state and federal law. This act shall take effect July 1, 2012.

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