Stopping School Bullying and Harassment will Curb School Violence
The most recent and shocking reports of school violence, against students and against school staff, raises several questions. Why? Why now? What's to be done? Who is responsible? Some of the answers are less obvious. To Mayor Bloomberg's credit, he has acknowledged that mistakes were made in the hasty and sweeping reorganization of the school system that inadvertently broke down a chain of command and security to keep violent students out of the classrooms and place them in alternative education settings.
Chancellor Klein and Police Commissioner Kelly, with the cooperation of the UFT and the principals, are working collaboratively to restore order and safety, especially in the most dangerous schools.
It is widely known that there are warning signs and precursors to violence. We have learned this from Columbine and other school tragedies across the nation. A school that does not seriously address bullying, harassment including all too often bias driven harassment becomes an unsafe, seething environment. Left unchecked, aggressive anti-social behaviors fester and lead to later incidents, including assaults and headline making tragedies. We can stop that.
My bill, the Dignity for All Students Act, which has passed twice by an overwhelming majority in the Assembly, must be passed in 2004 by the State Senate. The legislation would prohibit discrimination or harassment of students, bullying, taunting, intimidation and all behaviors that create an environment that makes students feel unsafe and which distracts them from learning. Targets of bullying often end up dropping out, using drugs, turning violent, or even committing suicide. The Dignity for All Students act will help foster civility and safety in every public school by providing for an environment that is conducive to learning, free of harassment and free of discrimination with school staff and districts held accountable for appropriate guidelines and enforcement.
A 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.
Along with other safety measures, by prohibiting harassment in public schools and establishing the appropriate procedures and policies to prevent and deal with non-violent but intimidating and demoralizing behaviors, schools will be better shielded from violence and tragedies which in many cases might have been prevented.#
Steven Sanders is Chairman of the Assembly Education Committee. He can be reached at (212) 979-9696 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.