A Resource and Promising Practices Guide for School Administrators & Faculty
The Dignity for All Students Act
In enacting the Dignity Act in 2010, the Legislature found that “a student’s ability to learn and to meet high academic standards, and a school's ability to educate its students are compromised by incidents of discrimination or harassment including bullying, taunting or intimidation” (Education Law §10). In support of Chapter 102 of the Laws of 2012, the legislative findings and intent included the following: “The legislature finds it is vital to protect all students from harassment, bullying, cyberbullying, and discrimination. In expanding the provisions of the Dignity for All Students Act, the legislature intends to give school districts tools to address these harmful acts consistent with the emerging research in the field. Bullying, harassment, and discrimination pose a serious threat to all students, including but not limited to students targeted because of actual of perceived race, color, weight, national origin, ethnic group, religion, religious practice, disability, sexual orientation, gender, or sex. It is imperative to protect every student from such harm regardless of whether the student is a member of a specific category.” (2)
The Dignity Act prohibits acts of harassment and bullying, including cyberbullying, and/or discrimination, by employees or students on school property or at a school function, including but not limited to such conduct those based on a student’s actual or perceived race, color, weight, national origin, ethnic group, religion, religious practice, disability, sexual orientation, gender (defined to include gender identity or expression), or sex (Education Law §12). Cyberbullying is defined as harassment or bullying which takes place through any form of electronic communication (Education Law §11).
Schools may want to consider whether using the label “bully” is the most effective way to address an individual’s behavior. It is important to note that the same child, in different circumstances, may take the role of the bully, the target, or a bystander. Labels do not reflect the range of roles a student may play. In addition, while a student may not readily admit to being a “bully,” they may acknowledge engaging in harmful behavior toward another student. When addressing inappropriate behavior, schools should carefully consider using language that encourages the most productive and beneficial conversation with students, staff, and persons in parental relation about what it means to treat others with dignity and respect.
A key principle in the Dignity Act relates to reporting incidents of harassment, bullying, and/or discrimination. Pursuant to §100.2(kk) of the Commissioner’s regulations, when an incident is reported and an investigation verifies that a material incident of harassment, bullying, and/or discrimination has occurred, the superintendent, principal or designee shall take prompt action consistent with the district’s Code of Conduct, reasonably calculated to end the harassment, bullying, and/or discrimination, eliminate any hostile environment, create a more positive school culture and climate, prevent recurrence of the behavior, and ensure the safety of the student(s) against whom such behavior was directed (8 NYCRR §100.2[kk][iv]). The Commissioner’s regulations define material incidents of harassment, bullying, and/or discrimination to include:
- a single verified incident or a series of related verified incidents where a student is subjected to harassment, bullying, and/or discrimination by a student and/or employee on school property or at a school function. The term also includes a verified incident of series of related incidents of harassment or bullying that occur off school property (where such acts create or would foreseeably create a risk of substantial disruption within the school environment, where it is foreseeable that the conduct, threats, intimidation or abuse might reach school property) and is the subject of a written or oral complaint to the superintendent, principal, or their designee or other school employee (8 NYCRR §100.2[kk][ix]).
Included in the Dignity Act is the prohibition of “cyberbullying,” which is defined as harassment or bullying which occurs through any form of electronic communication (Education law §11). The regulation of harassment in the form of cyberbullying may involve free speech, including constitutional matters regarding the ability of a school district, BOCES, or charter school to restrict these forms of speech and expression and to discipline individuals for engaging in them (see e.g. Tinker v. Des Moines Indep. Community Sch. Dist., 393 US 503 ). This issue will be addressed in Section VII of this document; however, it is critical to note that although discipline may not always be a viable option, the school is not precluded from taking actions that support and educate the students involved in cyberbullying.
(2) Chapter 102 of the Laws of 2012, section 1.