The Dignity Act

A Resource and Promising Practices Guide for School Administrators & Faculty

 

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SECTION III: SCHOOL PERSONNEL INCLUDING SUPERINTENDENTS AND PRINCIPALS

Harassment, Bullying and Discrimination Prevention and Intervention Training for Certification Candidates

The amendments to the Dignity Act introduced by Chapter 102 of the Laws of 2012 included a requirement that school professionals applying for a certificate or license on or after July 1, 2013 complete training on the social patterns of harassment, bullying and discrimination (this timeframe was extended until December 31, 2013 pursuant to Chapter 90 of the Laws of 2013 [Education Law §14(5)]).  In response to the amendments and after consultation with a work group comprised of educators and advocates, the Board of Regents approved the following regulatory changes:

  • Part 52 of the Commissioner’s Regulations has been amended to require teacher and school leadership preparation programs to include at least six hours of training in Harassment, Bullying and Discrimination Prevention and Intervention.
  • A new Subpart 57-4 of the Commissioner’s Regulations has been added to establish standards under which the Department will approve providers of this training.
  • Part 80 of the Commissioner’s Regulations has been amended to require that anyone applying for an administrative or supervisory service, classroom teaching service or school service certificate or license on or after December 31, 2013, shall have completed at least six hours of coursework or training in Harassment, Bullying and Discrimination Prevention and Intervention.

Responsibilities for Educators

The New York State Code of Ethics for Educators (7) sets clear expectations and principles to guide educational practice and inspire professional excellence. The first principle exemplifies the heart of the Dignity Act:

  • Educators nurture the intellectual, physical, emotional, social, and civic potential of each student.
  • Educators promote growth in all students through the integration of intellectual, physical, emotional, social and civic learning.
  • They respect the inherent dignity and worth of each individual.
  • Educators help students to reflect on their own learning and connect it to their life experience.
  • They engage students in activities that encourage diverse approaches and solutions to issues, while providing a range of ways for students to demonstrate their abilities and learning.
  • They foster the development of students who can analyze, synthesize, evaluate and communicate information effectively.

The Code of Ethics for Educators, as well as the six Educational Leadership Policy Standards established by the Council of Chief State School Officers (8), reinforces the critical importance of strong leadership within local education agencies.

Educational Leadership Policy Standards

  1. Setting a widely shared vision for learning;
  2. Developing a school culture and instructional program conducive to student learning and staff professional growth;
  3. Ensuring effective management of the organization, operation, and resources for a safe, efficient, and effective learning environment;
  4. Collaborating with faculty and community members, responding to diverse community interests and needs, and mobilizing community resources;
  5. Acting with integrity, fairness, and in an ethical manner; and
  6. Understanding, responding to, and influencing the political, social, legal, and cultural contexts.

As leaders in a school district, the superintendent and principals set the overall tone of respect and responsibility for the entire school community, including faculty, staff, students, and persons in parental relation. The leadership required of superintendents and principals is fundamental to the effective implementation of the Dignity Act.

The educational leadership, integrity, and professionalism demonstrated by the superintendent, principal, faculty and staff are essential to the overall school climate.  The Dignity Act imposes several requirements that involve school leadership and staff.  Specifically, Education Law §13(1) requires that boards create policies, procedures and guidelines that include provisions which:

  • Identify the principal, superintendent or the principal’s or superintendent’s designee as the school employee charged with receiving reports of harassment, bullying, and discrimination (Education Law §13[1][a]).
  • Enable students and parents to make an oral or written report of harassment, bullying, and discrimination to teachers, administrators, and other school personnel that the school district deems appropriate (Education Law §13[1][b]).
  • Require school employees who witness harassment, bullying, or discrimination, or receive an oral or written report of harassment, bullying, or discrimination, to promptly orally notify the principal, superintendent or their designee not later than one school day after such school employee witnesses or receives a report of harassment, bullying, or discrimination, and to file a written report with the principal, superintendent or their designee not later than two school days after making such oral report (Education Law §13[1][c]).
  • Require the principal, superintendent or their designee to lead or supervise the thorough investigation of all reports of harassment, bullying, or discrimination, and to ensure that such investigations are completed promptly after receipt of any written reports (Education Law §13[1][d]). When an investigation reveals any such verified harassment, bullying, or discrimination, take prompt actions reasonably calculated to end the harassment, bullying, 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 or students against whom such harassment, bullying, or discrimination was directed (Education Law §13[1][d][e]).
  • Require the principal to make a regular annual report on data and trends related to harassment, bullying, and discrimination to the superintendent (Education Law §13[1][h]).
  • Require the principal, superintendent or their designee to notify promptly  the appropriate local law enforcement agency when such individual believes that harassment, bullying, or discrimination constitutes criminal conduct (Education Law §13[1][i]).

Investigation and Follow-up

The Dignity Act requires that the principal, superintendent or the principal’s or superintendent’s designee lead or supervise the thorough investigation of all reports of harassment, bullying, and discrimination, and  ensure that such investigation is completed promptly after receipt of any written reports of harassment, bullying, and discrimination (Education Law §13[1][d]).

The following guidance, Creating a Safe and Respectful Environment in Our Nation’s Classrooms: Understanding and Intervening in Bullying Behavior was developed by the U.S. Department of Education National Center on Safe Supportive Learning Environments (NCSSLE) (9) with input from Barbara-Jane Paris (www.bjparis.orgexternal link icon).  The following module entitled Responding to and Reporting Bullying Behavior provides suggestions which may assist school administrators in fulfilling this vital role.

“It is important to respond to reports of bullying whether you witness the behavior or a student reporting it to you.  It is also important to respond appropriately to a situation.  In some cases, it is possible that what occurred is not bullying, but in order to respond appropriately you need to carefully research and document allegations.  To help ensure a safe orderly environment while responding to and then following up on incidents, your school’s policies and procedures should always guide you.  Whether a bullying incident is witnessed or reported by a student, you can follow these simple guidelines called The Five Rs…” 

Respond:

When bullying is reported to you or witnessed by you, you must respond and intervene immediately, making sure that everyone is safe.  Model respectful behavior when you intervene and reassure the student who has been bullied that what has happened is not his or her fault.  Ask the student, “What do you need from me?”  This may help you determine some of your next steps, including what kind of follow-up is needed.

Research:

It is important to document what the allegations are and to try to capture information from as many sources as possible, including bystanders, about what happened.  Using their exact language, write down exactly what students say happened.  It may also be helpful to try to find out whether anything happened that might have led to the incident.  An important part of your research is to determine whether the incident was indeed bullying or another kind of negative or aggressive interaction.

Record:

Good documentation will provide what is needed to write a thorough, accurate, and helpful report.  Collect and save everything in a folder.  In some cases, like cyberbullying, there may be things like text messages, pictures, or e-mails that should be copies and saved for attachment to the report.

Report:

Just like responding to the incident itself, writing and filing a formal report of a bullying incident should always be guided by your school’s policies, Student Code of Conduct and the commissioner’s regulations.  Your school will probably have its own forms for writing and filing a report.  After thorough research and while reviewing your school’s Student Code of Conduct, this report is where you would make a determination as to whether an incident is bullying or some other form of behavior.

Revisit:

After a plan has been developed for both the student who was bullied and the student engaged in bullying behavior, it will be important for you to follow-up with each student to check and see how things are going.  You want to find out if anything has changed, if the plans put into place are working (or not), and if anything else needs to be done.  Follow-up gives you a chance to gather more information, and it lets all of the students involved know that there is continued adult support for them.

 

(NOTE: Refer to Education Law §13[1] and the relevant provisions of Commissioner’s regulations for specific responsibilities required by New York State Law.)

Maintaining a Circle of Confidentiality

To effectively investigate an alleged incident of harassment or bullying, it is important to establish processes and procedures that prevent the “re-victimization” of the student.  Some types of harassment may become even more harmful through the perpetration in gossip and rumors, or through the association of an individual with a marked term or status in the school community.  It is therefore essential to objectively and systematically collect the facts, but to do so in a manner that does not perpetuate the harm already caused to the student.

There are several steps that can be taken to limit re-victimization. For example, framing open-ended questions such as “Have you heard Robert calling any of the girls names?” and following up with “Did you hear him call Susan any names?” is preferable to posing a pointed question like “Did you hear Robert call Susan an X?”  The pointed question, by its phrasing, inadvertently expands the audience for the harassment. 

Asking staff not to discuss incidents with one another outside the context of the actual investigation can also help to limit the re-victimization of a student. Emphasizing an atmosphere of confidentiality throughout the investigative process also helps prevent further dissemination of information about the harassment. 

Interviewees should be told during the interview that the information they provide will be kept confidential to the extent permitted under the law, but that there may be instances where the administration is required by law to share the information on a need-to-know basis.


(7) http://www.highered.nysed.gov/tcert/resteachers/codeofethics.html#statement

(8)

http://www.ccsso.org/Documents/2008/Educational_Leadership_Policy_Standards_2008.pdf

(9) http://safesupportiveschools.ed.gov/index.php?id=1480

 

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Last Updated: March 11, 2014