ALBANY, NY -- Governor David A. Paterson today signed into law the Dignity for All Students Act, which will help ensure that school administrators and educators have the tools and resources in place to afford all students – and particularly those who are targeted by bullies – an educational environment in which they can thrive.
"Every student has the right to a safe and civil educational environment, but far too often young people are ruthlessly targeted by bullies," Governor Paterson said. "Bullying and harassment have disrupted the education of too many young people, and we in government have a responsibility to do our part to create learning environments that help our children prosper. I am proud to sign this bill into law as it will help ensure that students are protected from harassment, discrimination and bullying at school grounds and at school functions."
Senate Majority Conference Leader John L. Sampson said: "To give our children the world class education they deserve we must first give them a school environment free of harassment and discrimination. I applaud Governor Paterson, Speaker Silver, the bill's main sponsors Senator Duane and Assemblyman O'Donnell, as well as the many dedicated advocates who joined together to pave the way for our children to have the safe and supportive school environment they need to achieve their full potential."
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said: "We cannot simultaneously speak of the importance of learning and allow some of our children to be deprived of their dignity and their right to an education by those who bully and harass. This is why the Assembly Majority has advanced Dignity for All Students and like legislation year after year. I laud the tireless efforts of Assemblyman Daniel O'Donnell to bring this critical legislation to enactment. It is yet another step forward in our goal of establishing a progressive democracy; one in which all New Yorkers can be proud."
To help provide a safe and civil educational environment, the Dignity for All Students Act requires school districts to:
• Revise their codes of conduct and adopt policies intended to create a school environment free from harassment and discrimination;
• Adopt guidelines to be used in school training programs to raise awareness and sensitivity of school employees to these issues and to enable them to respond appropriately; and
• Designate at least one staff member in each school to be trained in non-discriminatory instructional and counseling methods and handling human relations.
The bill explicitly defines "harassment" in terms of creating a hostile environment that unreasonably and substantially interferes with a student's educational performance, opportunities or benefits, or mental, emotional or physical well-being, or conduct, verbal threats, intimidation or abuse that reasonably causes or would reasonably be expected to cause a student to fear for his or her physical safety. The bill explicitly prohibits harassment and discrimination of students with respect to certain non-exclusive protected classes, including, but not limited to, the student's actual or perceived "race, color, weight, national origin, ethnic group, religion, religious practice, disability, sexual orientation, gender or sex."
Senator Thomas K. Duane said: "I applaud Governor Paterson for his strong support as he signs The Dignity for All Students Act (DASA) into law. DASA was one of the first bills I introduced in 1999 when I was newly elected to the State Senate. Now, after more than a decade of struggle, and with the Governor's support from the beginning to today, DASA will finally become a reality. Its intention is simple: No child should be terrified to go to school due to bullying and harassment. DASA is unique in that it focuses on education and the prevention of bullying and harassment before they begin rather than punishment after the fact. Further, the new law will include protections for students of transgendered experience -- the first time such provisions will be enshrined in New York State law. DASA will improve the quality of life for all of New York's public school students and will enhance their ability to thrive in a safe and nurturing educational environment."
Assemblyman Daniel O'Donnell said: "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. For too long, our educational system has been blind to the plight of these students. I am proud that the Assembly led the way on this important issue, and that today, the Dignity for All Students Act is finally signed into law."
This law takes effect on July 1, 2012, although rules and regulations necessary to implement the bill on that day may be promulgated before that date.