July-August 2012
June 28, 2012

Dignity Act sets in

Author: Sylvia Saunders
Source: NYSUT United
Caption: Kaitlin Monte, Miss New York 2011, visits students at Allegany-Limestone Elementary School. She spoke with them about the harmful effects of bullying. Photo by Dennis Stierer.

The state's Dignity for All Students Act officially goes into effect July 1. The union-backed Dignity Act, approved almost two years ago, applies to all public school students and covers behavior on school property, on a school bus and at school-sponsored events or activities.

The law prohibits harassment and discrimination of individuals based on a person's actual or perceived race, color, weight, national origin, ethnic group, religion, religious practice, disability, sexual orientation, gender or sex.

The Dignity Act also amends Education Law regarding instruction in civility, citizenship and character education by expanding the concepts of tolerance, respect for others and dignity.

School districts are responsible for training staff about the new law. Each school district must set policy for school training programs to raise awareness and sensitivity of school employees to potential discrimination and harassment; and enable all employees to prevent and respond to bullying. (Legislation on cyberbullying was approved in the final days of session.)

Although adults are not covered by the Dignity Act, a school's code of conduct is required to address acceptable civil and respectful treatment of school personnel, including disciplinary measures which may be imposed for violations.

Under the law, districts are required to annually report incidents of discrimination and harassment to the State Education Department.

NYSUT Vice President Maria Neira said SED's guidance suggests using the reporting requirement as a way for districts to gather key data about their school climate.

"Even though the reports to the state will happen only once a year, schools should collect the information in a way that allows educators to make real-time analysis of their trouble areas and take action," Neira said.

During the coming months, NYSUT will offer anti-bullying cadre training, working in cooperation with coalition partners, the United Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association. Watch www.nysut.org for updates.

Courses and seminars are available through NYSUT's Education & Learning Trust, www.nysut.org/elt. NYSUT has also posted a collection of helpful resources. Go to www.nysut.org/research.