April 7, 2009

Assembly Passes Dignity For All Students Act
Measure Protects Students from Harassment and Discrimination

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Assembly Member Daniel J. O'Donnell announced the Assembly today passed with overwhelming support the Dignity for All Students Act, a measure aimed at ensuring public school communities provide students with a learning environment free of discrimination. Provisions of the legislation prohibit harassment and discrimination based on race, color, weight, national origin, religion, disability, sexual orientation, gender, or sex.

"All students have a right to a safe and supportive school environment, so they can concentrate on their academic and personal growth. The Dignity for All Students Act attempts to stop the bullying and menacing that are so common in our schools," said Silver (D-Manhattan). "From incidents of school yard fights being posted on the internet, to tragedies such as the massacre at Columbine High School, harassment at schools has gone beyond teasing in hallways, and we must do all we can to stem this trend."

A 2008 report by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network found that 65 percent of teens reported having been verbally or physically harassed due to their appearance, gender, ethnicity, disability or religion.

"Too many students are bullied based on real or perceived differences with their classmates. Every student deserves an environment free of harassment and discrimination - an environment that allows every child to reach his or her full potential," said O'Donnell (D-Manhattan), who sponsored the bill. "For too long, our education system has been blind to the plight of these students. I am proud that the Assembly remains willing to address this important issue, and that the Dignity for All Students Act continues to win support."

The bill (A.3661B/S. 1987A) directs school districts to develop procedures which create discrimination and harassment free schools, as well as guidelines for training personnel to respond to discrimination and harassment. The Commissioner of Education will also be required to provide advice, model policies and direct services, where possible, to help school districts establish policies to prevent discrimination and harassment. Incidents on school grounds or at school functions must be reported to the State Education Department annually.

The Dignity for All Students Act has passed the Assembly seven times in previous years.