By Eric Yun
It won’t take affect for two years, but students in New York will have safeguards to protect them from bullying and harassment. Governor Paterson recently signed the Dignity for All Students Act, which allows the “commissioner of education to establish policies and procedures affording all students in public schools an environment free of harassment and discrimination,” according to the bill’s legislative summary.
The bill, which was introduced by Senator Thomas Duane (D-Manhattan), had almost universal support. It passed the Senate in a 58-3 vote and the Assembly in a 138-4 vote.
The Dignity for All Students Act would prohibit harassment or discrimination against students on school property or grounds. Harassment is defined as the creation of a hostile environment by conduct, verbal threats, intimidation or abuse that has or would unreasonably interfere with educational performance.
“This law exemplifies our commitment to providing all students with a safe learning environment,” said State Senator Joe Addabbo (D-Howard Beach), a prime supporter of the new law. “I am proud to support this legislation. Incidents of harassment and intimidation should not be tolerated in our schools.”
According to a 2008 survey cited in the bill, 15 to 20 percent of the U.S. student population is a victim of bullying. In a 2005 study cited by Addabbo, 39 percent of New York students reported bullying and harassment is a serious problem and 66 percent of students claimed they were harassed because of their looks.
The law also provides provision for the state Department of Education to provide training to school staff to foster a safe environment and dictates that incidents of harassment are reported at least once a year.