New York, NY - September 22, 2014 - Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman and New York State Education Department Commissioner John B. King, Jr., today announced a joint initiative on student bullying and harassment. As part of that initiative, the Office of the Attorney General and the State Education Department issued a survey today to all 700 school districts in New York seeking information on steps and actions they have taken to implement core provisions of 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 results of the survey will be used to identify steps that schools have taken and to model policies and practices being implemented by districts to help ensure that students are provided with safe school environments free from harassment, bullying, and discrimination.
“Students cannot learn when they live in fear of being harassed and bullied at school,” Attorney General Schneiderman said. “This survey will explore the steps New York school districts are taking to put the Dignity Act into effect. I am pleased to partner with our state’s Department of Education in this effort to make sure that all of our students have the safe and welcoming learning environments they deserve.”
New York State Commissioner of Education John B. King, Jr., said, “We’ve all seen the hurt and suffering bullying can cause to our students. There’s no place anywhere for that kind of behavior, but it’s even more disturbing in our schools. Schools must be a refuge, a safe place for children to learn without fear. We’ll continue to work with Attorney General Schneiderman to protect all of our students.”
New York State Assembly Member Daniel O’Donnell, the Dignity Act’s author and sponsor, said, “Bullying is a pervasive and damaging problem facing New York’s and the nation’s children. I welcome this initiative to identify how the Dignity Act’s guidelines are succeeding in the real world, and to help schools comply with the Dignity Act. The Dignity Act helps schools across the state discourage discrimination and harassment. This summer, I began a review of New York City’s implementation and found that while there’s progress, it is uneven, and much more needs to be done to improve awareness and support for schools making changes. It will take a great many people working together, from the schools themselves all the way up to the state level, to create the kind of productive conversation and lasting positive change we need.”
State Senator Brad Hoylman said, "Recent studies show that a majority of LGBT youth have been bullied at school, including verbal harassment and physical violence. That’s why Attorney General Schneiderman’s and State Education Commissioner King’s joint effort to combat student bullying is so important. By taking stock of New York’s anti-bullying law, the Dignity for All Students Act, this initiative will help get school districts the support they need to implement DASA and protect our kids.”
The Act, which became law in 2010, requires that school districts (i) modify their Code 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 collaborative survey will identify the steps that districts have taken to comply with the Dignity Act’s requirements while illuminating successful strategies that have been put in place since the law’s implementation. The results of the survey will also be used to help determine the kind of technical assistance that districts may need to ensure that they are fully meeting their obligations to provide safe learning environments for all students.
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.
Empire State Pride Agenda Executive Director Nathan M. Schaefer said, “Every young person has a right to an education without fear of bullying. September is Suicide Prevention Month, an appropriate time to investigate the bullying in our schools that can lead LGBT youth to feel unsafe and sometimes, sadly, to take their own lives. We’re proud of the leadership role we played in the passage of the Dignity for All Students Act and know that a law is only as good as its implementation. We commend Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman and New York State Education Department Commissioner John B. King, Jr., for taking up this important cause to identify where we need to do a better job of protecting our students from bullying.”
Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said, “The NYCLU welcomes the AG-SED survey as an important measure to help schools prevent bullying and bias-based harassment. It provides the first comprehensive review of how the Dignity Act is being implemented statewide and will offer examples of both successes and challenges. By providing technical support for schools that identify challenges, the AG-SED initiative will help schools meet their obligations under DASA to create a positive educational climate.”
Evan R. Bernstein, New York Regional Director of the Anti-Defamation League, said, “There is no place for bullying or harassment in our schools. We commend the Office of the Attorney General and the Department of Education for taking these essential steps to ensure that the Dignity Act is being used to its greatest potential. ADL looks forward to working with Attorney General Schneiderman and Commissioner King on this important initiative.”
The survey requests that districts provide information within six weeks of receipt of the questionnaire. After an opportunity to review information provided by districts, the initiative will provide technical assistance, where needed, to school districts. A copy of the survey sent today is available here and a letter sent to school districts here.
This initiative is part of a new 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 Department of Education are also working together to promote broad compliance with various state and federal civil rights requirements.
This matter is being handled by Assistant Attorney General Justin Deabler and Bureau Chief Kristen Clarke of the Civil Rights Bureau. Executive Deputy Attorney General for Social Justice is Alvin Bragg.