The Dignity Act

A Resource and Promising Practices Guide for School Administrators & Faculty

 

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SECTION I: SCHOOL CLIMATE AND CULTURE

Establishing and sustaining a school environment free of harassment, bullying, and discrimination should involve an examination of a school’s climate and culture. School climate and culture have a profound impact on student achievement, behavior, and reflects the school community’s culture.  

School climate may be defined as the quality and character of school life. It may be based on patterns of student, parent, and school personnel experiences within the school and reflects norms, goals, values, interpersonal relationships, teaching and learning practices, and organizational structures.

Key factors impacting school climate may include, but are not limited to, a person’s perception of their personal safety, interpersonal relationships, teaching, learning, as well as the external environment (http://www.schoolclimate.org/climateexternal link icon). The U.S. Department of Education Office of Safe and Healthy Students (http://safesupportiveschools.ed.govexternal link icon) Safe and Supportive Schools Model emphasizes the core areas of student/staff/community engagement, safety, physical environment, as well as emotional environment.

Safe and Supportive Schools Model: "Safe and Supportive Schools Model" text box branches to three text boxes: "Engagement," Safety" and "Environment." The "Engageement" box branches to three additional boxes: "Relationships," "Respect for Diversity" and "School Participation." The "Safety" text box branches to three additional text boxes: "Emotional Safety," Physical Safety," and "Substance Use." The "Environment" text box branches to four additional text boxes: "Physical Environment," Academic Environment, "Wellness," and "Disciplinary Environment." Logo: Safe and Supportive Schools - Engagement | Safety | Environment

A school’s culture is largely determined by the values, shared beliefs, and behavior of all the various stakeholders within the school community and reflects the school’s social norms.

A presentation developed by Dr. David Osher and Dr. Chris Boccanfuso for the U.S. Department of Education Safe and Supportive School Technical Assistance Center further demonstrates the interconnectedness of enhanced academic outcomes and a school climate where students feel safe, supported, academically challenged, and socially capable.   See: http://safesupportiveschools.ed.gov/reader.php?upload=/20110303_PresentationFinal 21011SSSTASchoolClimateWebinarpublic.pdfexternal link icon

Conditions for Learning: Key Aspects of School Climate Which Support School Academic Outcomes - Students are safe: Physically safe, Emotionally and socially safe, Treated fairly and equitably, Avoid risky behaviors, School is safe and orderly. Students are supported: Meaningful connection to adults, Strong bonds to school, Positive peer relationships, Effective and available support. Students are challenged: High expectations, Strong personal motivation, School is connected to life goals, Rigorous academic opportunities. Students are socially capable: Emotionally intelligent and culturally competent, Responsible and persistent, Cooperative team players, Contribute to school community.

The following provides a guide to identifying the key stakeholders in a school – as it directly relates to school climate and culture.

Who is the School Community? Factors affecting school culture
  • Students and their families, including persons in parental relation
  • Teachers
  • Administrators
  • Counselors, social workers, school nurses, parent coordinators, PTA members
  • Related service providers
  • School safety personnel and resource officers
  • Cafeteria, custodial, and other support staff
  • Transportation staff
  • Community organizations
  • Staff expectations of student behavior and academic achievement
  • School policies and procedures
  • Consistent and equitable treatment of all students
  • Equity in, and access to, resources (budget, space, time, personnel, supplies, equipment)
  • Equity in, and access to, support services
  • Student and family engagement

SCHOOL CLIMATE AND CODES OF CONDUCT

Establishing behavioral expectations for students, staff, and visitors that encourage a positive and respectful school climate and culture are essential to creating and maintaining a safe and supportive school community.

Commissioner’s regulation §100.2(l)(2)(ii)(b) reflects the Dignity Act’s requirement that boards of education create policies, procedures and guidelines intended to create a school environment that is free from harassment, bullying and discrimination (see Education Law §13).

See: www.regents.nysed.gov/meetings/2012Meetings/March2012/312p12a4.pdf.

A WHOLE SCHOOL APPROACH – BUILDING STUDENT READINESS

There is an expectation that schools promote a positive school culture that encourages interpersonal and inter-group respect among students and between students and staff. To ensure that schools provide all students with a supportive and safe environment in which to grow and thrive academically and socially, each of the following facets of a school community must be considered:

Social Environment
• Interpersonal Relations: Students & Staff
• Respect for Diversity
• Emotional Well Being and Sense of Safety
• Student Engagement
• School & Family Collaboration
• Community Partnerships

Physical Environment
• Building Conditions
• Physical Safety
• School Wide Protocols
• Classroom Management

Behavioral Environment, Expectations & Supports
• Physical & Mental Well Being
• Prevention & Intervention Services
• Behavioral Accountability (Disciplinary and Interventional Responses)

The periodic review of a school’s social, physical, and behavioral environments, as well as student and staff expectations and supports enable school leaders and personnel to play a key role in establishing and sustaining school norms that foster a positive culture and climate in which all students can thrive.  There are varying school climate models that have been developed by organizations, as well as by other states.  Many of these models can be accessed through the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Safe and Supportive Schools at http://safesupportiveschools.ed.govexternal link icon. The National School Climate Center, an organization dedicated to helping schools incorporate social and emotional learning with academic instruction, has developed a school climate improvement model based on a cyclical process of preparation, evaluation, understanding the evaluation findings and action planning, implementing the action plan, and re-evaluation and continuing the cycle of improvement efforts.  This process enhances student performance; reduces dropout rates, violence, bullying; while developing healthy and positively engaged adults. (http://schoolclimate.org/climate/process.phpexternal link icon)

School Climate Improvement Process: Stage 1 - Preparation leads to Stage 2 - Evaluation leads to Stage 3 - Understanding & Action Planning leads to Stage 4 - Implementation leads to Stage 5 - Re-Evaluation leads back to Stage 1 - Preparation.

 

SOCIAL AND EMOTIONAL LEARNING

The State Board of Regents affirmed support for social and emotional learning on July 18, 2011 by formally adopting Educating the Whole Child – Engaging the Whole School: Guidelines and Resources for Social and Emotional Development and Learning (SEDL) in New York State www.p12.nysed.gov/sss/sedl/SEDLguidelines.pdf.

In the summary presented to the Board of Regents by State Education Commissioner John B. King, Jr., it was noted that “social and emotional development is the ability to understand, manage, and express the social and emotional aspects of one’s life in ways that enable the successful management of life tasks such as learning, forming relationships, solving everyday problems, and adapting to the complex demands of growth and development." (3)

www.regents.nysed.gov/meetings/2011Meetings/July2011/711p12a6-revised.pdf

Teaching social and emotional skills is as important as teaching academic skills. Abraham Maslow’s statement, “If you only have a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail,” speaks directly to the fundamental need to provide students with instruction in social/emotional skills as both an overarching prevention strategy and as a primary intervention strategy for children whose “toolkit” of responses needs to be expanded to include appropriate, pro-social strategies for effectively interacting with others. 

Schools are encouraged to address prevention and intervention on three levels (Lewis & Sugai 1999; Sugai et al 2000, Walker et al 1996):

  • Primary (universal) prevention to promote pro-social development and prevent problems
  • Secondary prevention to address the needs of at-risk students as soon as possible when behavioral incidents occur
  • Tertiary prevention that provides applicable interventions to students with chronic and/or severe problems.
    www.p12.nysed.gov/sss/sedl/SEDLguidelines.pdf

Prevention and intervention continuum to promote healthy, adaptive and pro-social behaviors

Walker et al 1996

 

Prevention and intervention continuum

Some Guiding Questions to Consider When Examining These Factors
  • How well does the school project a welcoming and supportive environment for all students?
  • What are the school’s behavioral expectations for students and staff, and how well do they address the responsibility of the school to ensure a safe and supportive environment?
  • How does the school communicate its clear expectations regarding pro-social behavior and respect within the school community with staff and students?
  • How well do all adult members of the school community model respect for diversity in their interactions with one another – and with students and their families?
  • What kinds of programs and initiatives does the school implement to promote respect for diversity?
  • If an individual or group engages in discriminatory behavior toward a student or group of students based on the student’s or group of students’ actual or perceived identity, how does the school address the behavior so that it does not become a pervasive or persistent pattern and so that the individual student or group of students does not have reason to believe that such behavior is likely to continue?
  • How does the school integrate respect for diversity into the curriculum?
  • How well does the school library collection (books, periodicals, multimedia resources) and visual displays throughout the building promote respect for diversity?
  • Are library collections readily accessible to everyone in the school?
  • How are students, the largest group of stakeholders in the school community, involved in preventing bias-based behavior and promoting respect?
  • How are students provided with opportunities for social emotional learning?
  • How are students learning empathy?
  • How often does the school review, and amend, its safety and security procedures to ensure that all areas to which students have access are well monitored and supervised, including stairwells, hallways, locker rooms and athletic facilities, outside play areas, cafeteria, auditorium, etc.
  • When students do not meet behavioral expectations, how does the school ensure equitable access to support and disciplinary accountability?
  • When disciplinary data is regularly reviewed, how does the school bring multiple perspectives and disciplines to the process?
  • How are resources used to support student engagement (student organizations, clubs and teams) so that all students see themselves as valued members of the school community?
  • How does the school actively support and encourage diversity in student government?
  • How does the school provide regularly scheduled opportunities for students, especially those who are not elected to student government, to share ideas, identify concerns and strategies for improved school climate and culture with the principal/school leaders?
  • How well does the school promote diversity in the recruitment and training of students who serve as peer mediators in the school’s peer mediation center?
  • How successful is the school in welcoming the families of all students into the school community?
  • Does the school engage and encourage parents to work as partners in their children’s learning?
  • How does the school celebrate and recognize students’ successes, progress and achievement so that all students see themselves as valued members of the school community?

Social and emotional learning helps students develop fundamental and effective life skills, including: recognizing and managing emotions; developing caring and concern for others; establishing positive relationships; making responsible decisions; and handling challenging situations constructively and ethically. Such skills help prevent negative behaviors and the disciplinary consequences that may result when students do not live up to behavioral standards.

A strictly punitive or reactive approach to inappropriate student behavior is neither the intent of the Dignity Act, nor has it been proven effective in reducing incidents. Rather it is recommended that strategies such as prevention, intervention, and graduated/progressive discipline be considered in addressing and correcting inappropriate behavior, while re-enforcing pro-social values among students.

Student Engagement

Students are the largest group of stakeholders in the school and its greatest resource in creating and sustaining a safe and supportive school environment. Student engagement is absolutely essential in creating a positive school culture and climate that effectively fosters student academic achievement and social/emotional growth. The quality of student life and the level of student engagement may be the best single indicator of potential or current school safety and security concerns as they pertain to student behavior.

Providing students with multiple opportunities to participate in a wide range of pro-social activities and, at the same time, bond with caring, supportive adults mitigates against negative behaviors are key to promoting a safe and supportive school. Such opportunities, coupled with a comprehensive guidance program of prevention and intervention, provide students with the experiences, strategies and skills, and support they need to thrive.

Student and staff access to school library and classroom materials which address human relations in the areas of race, color, weight, national origin, ethnic group, religion, religious practice, disability, sexual orientation, gender (including gender identity or expression), or sex may also promote an environment in which social/emotional growth can be nurtured and thrive.

General resources to assist school administrators, teachers, and the Dignity Act Coordinator in addressing the needs of students are in Appendix C of this guide.

Student Empowerment

The Dignity Act states that “[n]o student shall be subjected to harassment or bullying by employees or students on school property or at a school function; nor shall any student be subjected to discrimination based on a person’s actual or perceived race, color, weight, national origin, ethnic group, religion, religious practice, disability, sexual orientation, gender, or sex by school employees or students on school property or at a school function…” (Education Law §12[1]). 

Whether a student is being bullied himself/herself or has witnessed another student being bullied, s/he needs to feel empowered, comfortable, and safe reporting such an incident to school faculty or staff.  Specifically, the Dignity Act requires that boards of education create policies, procedures and guidelines that enable students and parents to make oral and/or written reports of harassment, bullying  or discrimination to teachers, administrators, and other school personnel that the school district deems appropriate (Education Law §13[1][b]). 

Even with such policies in place, a student who has been bullied may still hesitate in seeking help from an adult. Since the Dignity Act applies to both student-to-student and faculty/staff-to-student behavior, it is important to keep in mind that the student may have been harassed or bullied by a school employee.  In a case such as this, the issues of empowerment and trust are that much more critical – and the objectivity and approachability of the person the student confides in is absolutely essential.

The U.S. Department of Education has developed an on-line toolkit designed to assist educators in addressing issues related to incidents of bullying by Creating a Safe and Respectful Environment in Our Nation’s Classrooms. This program points out that students may not report bullying due to a variety of reasons ranging from the humiliation they already feel from having been bullied and the fear that reporting the behavior will only worsen this, to feelings of isolation and a belief that no adult will believe and/or help them address the situation.

See: (http://safesupportiveschools.ed.gov/index.php?id=1480external link icon).

To assist students who may be bullied, the Dignity Act includes a requirement that boards of education create policies, procedures and guidelines that require each school to provide all students, school employees, and parents with an electronic or written copy of the district’s Dignity Act policies, including notification of the process by which they may report harassment, bullying, and discrimination (Education Law §13[1][k]).

School and District Practice and Policies

A school’s culture may be the single most important factor in preventing, limiting, and/or dealing with bullying and cyberbullying incidents.  Educators need to work diligently to create school cultures that value and teach respect for all.  The most positive school cultures are culturally sensitive and model positive behavioral interactions. 

Potential strategies available to create a comprehensive response to bullying and cyberbullying include policies and programs that address school climate; Code of Conduct; Internet Safety and Accepted Use Policies which comply with the federal Children’s Internet Protection Act; and the analysis of Violent and Disruptive Incident Reports (VADIR).

  • School culture: NYSED, in conjunction with the New York State Office of Mental Health, has developed Guidelines and Resources for Social and Emotional Development and Learning (SEDL) in New York State. This document, and other SEDL resources to assist schools in developing positive school climates and cultures, can be found at www.p12.nysed.gov/sss/sedl/.
  • Code of Conduct: All public school districts must adopt and provide for the enforcement of a written Code of Conduct for the maintenance of order on school property and at school functions.  The Code of Conduct must govern the conduct of students, teachers, other school personnel and visitors (see Education Law §2801[2] and Commissioner’s Regulation 8 NYCRR §100.2[l][2][i]).

For specific information on Dignity Act Amendments affecting the Code of Conduct see “Guidance for Updating Codes of Conduct” at:

http://www.p12.nysed.gov/dignityact/documents/DASACodeofConductGuidance.pdf

An age-appropriate summary of the Code of Conduct must be provided to all students at a school assembly at the beginning of each school year; a plain-language summary of the Code of Conduct must be mailed to all persons in parental relation to students before the beginning of each school year; each teacher must be provided with a copy of the complete code of conduct and a copy of any amendments as soon as practicable following initial adoption or amendment of the code; and each new teacher must be provided with a complete copy of the current code upon their employment (see Education Law §2801[4]; 8 NYCRR §100.2[l][2][iii][b]).  This also provides an opportunity for school personnel to both review the Code of Conduct with students and parents and identify possible gaps in policy, practices, and procedures.

The Code of Conduct must be reviewed annually and updated if necessary, taking into consideration the effectiveness of code provisions and the fairness and consistency of its administration (see Education Law §2801[5][a] and 8 NYCRR §100.2[l][2][iii][a]).  This annual review provides an opportunity to assess whether the Code of Conduct needs to be revised to address, among other things, the use of new forms of technology on school grounds and/or at school functions by students, teachers, other school personnel and visitors.  A district may establish a committee to facilitate the review of its Code of Conduct and the district’s response to Code of Conduct violations (see Education Law §2801[5][a] and 8 NYCRR §100.2[l][2][iii][a]). The review team/committee must include student, teacher, administrator, and parent organizations, school safety personnel and other school personnel (Education Law §2801[5][a] and 8 NYCRR §100.2[l][2][iii][a]).  Such committee might also include school staff, community members, and law enforcement officials.  It is also recommended that individuals with strong technology skills and a thorough understanding of how students, teachers, and staff are using technology be recruited to assist in the review of the Code of Conduct.  This will help ensure that the Code of Conduct reflects current and anticipated challenges that have been created or are anticipated through the evolution of technology.  In addition, prior to board adoption of the updated code of conduct a public hearing must be held to inform the community about the proposed changes and receive input.

The Code of Conduct is an ideal document in which to establish expectations and consequences for student and staff conduct regarding internet safety and the use of technology while on school grounds and/or at school functions. Teachers must be provided with a complete copy of the Code of Conduct (8 NYCRR §100.2[l][2][iii][b][4]) and complete copies of the Code of Conduct must also be made available for review by students, persons in parental relation to students, and other community members (see Education Law §2801[4] and 8 NYCRR §100.2[l][2][iii][b]).  The complete Code of Conduct, including any annual updates or other amendments, must be posted on the school district’s website, if one exists (8 NYCRR §100.2[l][2][iii][b][1]).


(3) Elias, M., Zins, J., Weissberg, P., Frey, K., Haynes, N., Kessler, R., Schwab-Stone, M., Shriver, T., (1997) Promoting Social and Emotional Learning: Guidelines for Educators. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

 

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Last Updated: March 11, 2014