Against School Bullies
Assemblyman Steven Sanders
Dignity for All Students Act, landmark legislation which I introduced
in the Assembly to prohibit discrimination or harassment of students
and to prevent bullying in public schools, has been reported out
of the Education, Codes, and Ways & Means CommGttees in the
Assembly. A full vote in the Assembly is expected soon.
Two years ago, the State Legislature took an important step toward
preventing violence in schools with enactment of the landmark
Project SAVE. Dignity for All Students is a logical and much needed
next step, since bullying, taunting, intimidation and harassment—including
bias-driven harassment—are very often precursors to violence.
But, even without the relationship to violence, they have no place
in a school at any time. Dignity for All Students will help foster
civility in every public school by providing for an environment
that is conducive to learning, free of harassment and free of
The bill states that such acts are to be prohibited, including
when based on a persons actual or perceived race, color, national
origin, ethnic group, religion, religious practice, disability,
sexual orientation, gender, or sex.
People are targeted sometimes as a result of world or local events.
Just recently, Arab-American students suffered terrible abuse
in the wake of September 11th. And all students, whether gay or
straight, are negatively effected by anti-gay harassment—one of
the most common forms of in-school harassment, with the average
high school student hearing anti-gay epithets 25 times a day.
According to the Empire State Pride Agenda, gay and lesbian students—and
those perceived to be lesbian or gay, in particular—are the victims
of severe and widespread discrimination and harassment in our
public schools. Ninety percent of lesbian and gay youth regularly
hear homophobic remarks in school, with almost half saying they
experienced verbal harassment daily. A 1993, 14-city study of
lesbian and gay youth ages 14-21 found that 44 percent were threatened
with physical attack, 33 percent had objects thrown at them, 30
percent were chased or followed and 17 percent were physically
assaulted. Most alarmingly, one third of the youth surveyed reported
that no one, not even teachers or administrators, intervened in
these circumstances. It may come as a shock that New York State
Education Law does not contain any explicit prohibition against
harassment of any kind in primary or secondary education. While
some New York localities have passed anti-discrimination and harassment
policies for their schools, there is no comprehensive statewide
protection from harassment in schools under New York State law.
In order to concentrate on their academic and personal growth,
students need a safe and non-threatening school environment. They
should never have to be preoccupied by the threat or actual occurrence
of harassment or discrimination, be it verbal or physical, either
from school employees or fellow students.
The bill would promote civility among students and between students
and teachers. It will also help create an atmosphere where learning
is paramount and distractions to learning are minimized–more important
than ever as we expect students to meet higher standards and pass
high-stakes tests. The bill provides a response to the large numbers
of harassed and stigmatized students skipping school and engaging
in high-risk behaviors like drug use, alcohol abuse, and perhaps
No child or teen should ever be pushed to such extremes because
of an intolerable environment in his or her school. By prohibiting
harassment in public schools and establishing the appropriate
procedures and policies to prevent and deal with such incidents,
the bill will be a major step in creating more nurturing environments
in all our schools.
The bill is not punitive in focus. It certainly doesn’t require
that everybody “like” each other. Dignity’s focus is on learning,
about keeping an environment in a school civil and conducive to
learning, where no student should be expected to have to endure
bullying, intimidation or harassment based on personal characteristics,
real or perceived.
Our principals need Dignity for All Students so that a school
building can be a non-threatening place. Our teachers need this,
to ensure the right climate for learning—in every classroom.
But most of all, our students need this bill. We demand a lot
from them, and that is correct. And true, the world is a rough
place. But schools shouldn’t be. Let’s provide our young people
with the safety and the security they need to succeed in school
and beyond. Dignity for All Students can make that possible.
Sanders is Chairman of the Assembly Education Committee. He can
be reached at (212) 979-9696 or by E-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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