In one month, a new law protecting students will go into effect in New York State. Called the Dignity for All Students Act, the law requires schools to protect all elementary, middle, and high school students from harassment and discrimination by students or school employees on the basis of their actual or perceived race, color, weight, national origin, ethnic group, religion, religious practice, disability, sexual orientation, gender (including gender expression), or sex.
There was a special emotional resonance when then-Governor David Paterson signed the bill into law in 2010 (see photo above), since the governor, legally blind from a young age, endured bullying himself during his school days on the basis of his disability.
The state’s Department of Education has published a resource and implementation guide that makes interesting reading for anyone interested in improving school climate, no matter what state they’re in. There’s also a Facebook page for educators to connect, and share news and ideas.
Interestingly, the resource guide includes an explanation for why the act sidesteps a discussion of “bullying”:
The word “bullying” does not appear in the Dignity Act. Rather, bullying behavior is amanifestation of the larger problems of discrimination and harassment that the DignityAct seeks to prevent and prohibit.In this guide the terms bullying and harassment are used, however schools shouldseriously consider whether using the label “bully” is the most effective way to addressthe behavior. It is important to note that the same child, in different circumstances, maytake the role of the bully, the target or a bystander. Labels, therefore, are not reflectiveof the range of roles a student may play. In addition, while a student may not readilyadmit to being a “bully,” they may acknowledge engaging in harmful behavior towardsanother student. In dealing with inappropriate behavior, schools should carefullyconsider using language that encourages the most productive conversation withstudents, staff, and parents about what it means to treat others with dignity and respect.
In other words, the act is looking to transcend particular labels and behaviors, and to actually change the culture and expectations in school, creating a more fundamental overhaul in the social relationships in schools.
Luckily, CC! is well-prepared to help schools make these changes, whether they’re working to comply with this particular law, or not. Check out our full range of training and professional development opportunities on our website. Or call 1-800-711-2670 to speak with a representative who can walk you through the options.