A Resource and Promising Practices Guide for School Administrators & Faculty
The Dignity for All Students Act
A student’s ability to learn and to meet high academic standards, and a school's ability to educate its students is compromised by incidents of discrimination or harassment including bullying, taunting, or intimidation. The Dignity Act makes it the official policy of New York State that all students in public schools have the right to an education free of discrimination and harassment.
To promote civility in public schools, and to prevent and prohibit conduct which is inconsistent with a school's educational mission, the Dignity Act requires every school district in New York State to include an age appropriate version of the policy in its code of conduct. The Dignity Act addresses material incidents of harassment and discrimination of students by students, as well as of students by faculty or staff.
The Dignity Act includes, but is not limited to, acts of discrimination and harassment based on a student’s race, color, weight, national origin, ethnic group, religion, religious practice, disability, sexual orientation, gender (defined to include gender identity or expression), or sex.
The word “bullying” does not appear in the Dignity Act. Rather, bullying behavior is a manifestation of the larger problems of discrimination and harassment that the Dignity Act seeks to prevent and prohibit.
In this guide the terms bullying and harassment are used, however schools should seriously consider whether using the label “bully” is the most effective way to address the 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, therefore, are not reflective of 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 towards another student. In dealing with inappropriate behavior, schools should carefully consider using language that encourages the most productive conversation with students, staff, and parents about what it means to treat others with dignity and respect.
A key principle in the Dignity Act relates to material incidents of harassment and discrimination. The Department has proposed regulations to the Board of Regents that would define material incidents of harassment and discrimination to include:
- a single incident or a series of related incidents where a student is subjected to harassment and/or discrimination by a student or school employee on school property or at a school function that creates a hostile environment by conduct, with or without physical contact and/or by verbal threats, intimidation or abuse, of such a severe or pervasive nature that:
- (i) has or would have the effect of unreasonably interfering with a student’s educational performance, opportunities or benefits, or mental, emotional and/or physical well-being; or
- (ii) reasonably causes or would reasonably be expected to cause a student to fear for his or her physical safety.
Material incidents of harassment and discrimination include, but are not limited to: threats, intimidation or abuse based on a person’s actual or perceived race, color, weight, national origin, ethnic group, religion, religious practices, disability, sexual orientation, gender (including gender identity or expression), or sex.
The Dignity Act does not directly address the issue of “cyberbullying” (harassment of students via electronic communications such as texting, email or social networks). The Dignity Act empowers school staff to consider all the forms of harassment of students by other students or staff that occur on school property or at a school function. However, since regulation of harassment in the forms of cyberbullying and sexting may involve free speech, constitutional issues arise regarding the ability of a school district, BOCES, or charter school to restrict these forms of speech and expression and to discipline students for engaging in them (see e.g. Tinker v. Des Moines Indep. Community Sch. Dist. (393 US 503 ). These issues will be further addressed in Section VII, but it is critical to note here 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.
A “Dignity for All Students Act Glossary, Acronym Guide & Questions & Answers For Schools” including glossary is included in Appendix A of this document or at the following address: www.p12.nysed.gov/dignityact/appendixa.