A.G. Schneiderman And State Education Commissioner Elia Release Guidance And Model Materials To Help School Districts Comply With The Dignity For All Students Act

News from Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 31, 2016

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A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN AND STATE EDUCATION COMMISSIONER ELIA RELEASE GUIDANCE AND MODEL MATERIALS TO HELP SCHOOL DISTRICTS COMPLY WITH THE DIGNITY FOR ALL STUDENTS ACT 

Guidance Based Upon Results Of Joint School District Survey Of Compliance With The Dignity For All Students Act, Which Requires Districts To Implement Measures Combating Bullying And Discrimination

Schneiderman: It's Vitally Important That Students Feel Comfortable Coming Forward With Fears Of Discrimination Or Harassment In Our Schools

NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman and New York State Education Department Commissioner MaryEllen Elia today released guidance and model materials to aid school districts in complying with the Dignity For All Students Act.  The Dignity Act is New York’s first comprehensive statewide anti-bullying legislation and stands as a powerful tool against discrimination and harassment in public elementary and secondary schools.  The Attorney General and Commissioner based the guidance on the needs identified in a joint statewide survey of school districts concerning compliance with the Dignity Act.  The guidance and training materials were developed after a comprehensive review of district responses to the joint survey, and consideration of steps districts have taken across New York to provide their students with safe school environments.  

"It's vitally important that students feel comfortable coming forward with fears of discrimination or harassment in our schools, and equally important that schools honestly report their responses to these issues,” Attorney General Schneiderman said. “I am pleased to continue our partnership with the New York State Education Department to ensure that all of our students have the safe and welcoming learning environments they deserve.  I deeply appreciate the participation of school districts that responded to the survey.  Their thoughtful responses, and the challenges and successes they described, greatly assisted our agencies in developing additional guidance and materials to help schools keep their students safe.”

New York State Commissioner of Education Mary Ellen Elia, said, “Far too many children go to school in fear every day – afraid they will be taunted, teased, bullied and even physically harmed, just because others perceive them as different. It is a national tragedy that can’t be ignored or allowed to continue. The Regents and I are grateful for Attorney General Schneiderman’s partnership as we continue to bring awareness about this critical issue to our schools and to the public. We are grateful, as well, for the Attorney General’s assistance in disseminating guidance and training materials to help our school leaders establish policies and procedures to create school environments that are free from harassment, bullying and discrimination.” 

Assemblymember Daniel O’Donnell said, “The passage of the Dignity for All Students Act was one of my greatest accomplishments as a legislator because it mandated that public schools in New York create a school culture that is inclusive to all and prevents harassment and bullying of students. I applaud Attorney General Eric Shneiderman and the New York State Department of Education for continuing to look for ways to improve this legislation and support New York's students.”

State Senator Brad Hoylman said. "The idea behind the Dignity For All Students Act is that all children, regardless of race, gender, ethnicity or sexual orientation, deserve to feel safe at school. But we can’t stop what we can’t see. With these thoughtful new guidance and training materials, we’ll be able to more completely implement DASA by helping schools and families – particularly those who don’t speak English – effectively identify, report and address bullying. I’m truly grateful to Attorney General Schneiderman and Education Commissioner Elia for this comprehensive joint survey, which will go a long way towards stamping out bullying across New York's 733 school districts."

The Dignity Act, which became law in 2010, requires school districts to (i) modify their Codes of Conduct to include prohibitions on harassment, bullying, and discrimination, and disseminate the updated code to students and their parents, (ii) train school employees on topics of bullying, harassment, and discrimination, (iii) designate Dignity Act Coordinators for each district school, and (iv) provide students with instruction intended to discourage harassment, bullying, and discrimination. 

The Act became law in 2010, with an effective date of 2012 for its major provisions.  In the decade leading up to the bill’s passage, awareness grew nationally about the epidemic nature of bullying within schools.  In 2009, more than 7 million U.S. students ages 12 to 18 – 28 percent – reported being bullied at school. A 2011 survey of New York high school students revealed that nearly 18 percent had been bullied on school property.  Prior to passage of the Dignity Act, only 1 in 5 students in New York State attended a school with a comprehensive anti-bullying and anti-harassment policy.

The dear colleague letter issued by the Attorney General and Commissioner analyzed data on material incidents of bullying, harassment, and/or discrimination that districts were required to provide to the State Education Department for the 2013-14 school year. That data suggested underreporting of such incidents in districts across New York State. The data also contained a high percentage of reported incidents being classified as “other” in nature, and not identifying one of the protected bases in the Dignity Act – e.g., race, gender, sexual orientation – as motivating the incidents. 

The letter also includes recommendations and areas for improvement in school districts, including ensuring that districts (1) timely appoint Dignity Act Coordinators to fill positions when they are vacated, (2) have procedures in place to maintain records and accurately report material incidents of harassment or bullying to the Commissioner, (3) develop materials and regularly train school employees on their duties under the Dignity Act, including duties to identify, investigate, and report incidents of harassment or bullying, and (4) provide language access to district codes of conduct, and other materials concerning schools’ expectations for student conduct, for non-native English speakers. 

Along with the dear colleague letter, the two agencies enclosed a document entitled, “Dignity for All Students Act:  Guidance on Investigating, Responding, and Reporting.” The document describes best practices for school districts in investigating alleged incidents of harassment and bullying; districts’ recordkeeping requirements; and how and when schools should aggregate data about incidents to ensure accurate reporting of data to the Education Department. 

The full survey analysis and recommendations can be found here.

Based upon the survey results provided by districts, the Attorney General and Commissioner also developed and released a set of model training materials to assist districts in training school employees on a variety of topics, including the nature of harassment, bullying, and discrimination; how to identify such behavior; and school employees’ duties concerning the reporting, investigation, and documenting of alleged incidents of harassment, bullying, and discrimination. The model training materials can be found here.

Dawn Yuster, School Justice Project Director at Advocates for Children, said, “I applaud the Attorney General and the Commissioner for providing additional resources to school districts statewide as they seek to provide safe school environments for all students.  Each year, Advocates for Children receives many calls on our Helpline from parents struggling with the bullying their children experience in school, and our School Justice Project is working on behalf of those children who live in fear of harassment and bullying because of who they are or how they are different from other kids.  I am confident that technical assistance in the form of guidance, model forms, and training materials will help districts understand their duties under DASA and other civil rights laws, and work toward the goal we all share:  to make sure our kids have a safe and welcoming place to go to school.”

This initiative is part of a partnership, launched in the 2014-15 academic year, between the Attorney General’s Office and the New York State Education Department to jointly promote equal educational opportunity across New York State.  In addition to the joint initiative on bullying and harassment, the Attorney General’s Office and the Education Department work together to promote broad compliance with various state and federal civil rights requirements, and to address such issues as barriers to student enrollment, academic diversion of limited English proficient students, and school discipline. 

This matter is being handled by Assistant Attorney General Justin Deabler and Bureau Chief Lourdes M. Rosado of the Civil Rights Bureau.  The Executive Deputy Attorney General for Social Justice is Alvin Bragg.

The Attorney General's Office is committed to ensuring access to equal educational opportunity. To file a complaint, contact the Civil Rights Bureau at (212) 416-8250, civil.rights@ag.NY.gov or visit www.ag.NY.gov.

 

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