At the Nanuet School Board meeting last week, Steve Schlanger, Assistant Superintendent, gave a presentation on the Dignity Act and as a result, the changes the district will need to make to its policies to reflect it.
"(Bullying) it really has this pernicious, lasting effect on our kids," said Schlanger at a board meeting last week. He added that the law's wording had been changed. "It now says 'No student shall be subject to discrimination based on their actual or perceived race, color, weight, national origin, ethnic group, religion, religious practice, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity and sex.'"
He added that discrimination against height also falls under this law as well, such as bullying someone for being too tall or short.
The New York State’s Dignity for All Students Act (The Dignity Act) seeks to provide the public elementary and secondary school students with a safe and supportive environment free from discrimination, intimidation, taunting, harassment and bullying on school property, a school bus and/or at a school function, according to the NYS Education Department’s website.
One of the topics of discussion was the term "school function."
"This is something we’ll have to talk to our legal counsel about what constitutes a school function. That’s a broad definition the board has to examine," said Schlanger.
The Dignity Act was signed into law on September 13, 2010 and takes effect on July 1, 2012.
"There are many high profile stories we have seen in the news,” said Schlanger and he mentioned Phoebe Prince, Tyler Clementi and Jamie Rodemeyer. All three took their lives after being bullied by classmates through technology and/or for sexual identity.
Schlanger added that bullying does not always lead to suicide or revenge, like these high-profile cases.
“What we really see happening, kids are becoming depressed, anxious, bulimic, anorexic, they’re hurting themselves, literally cutting themselves," he said. "Thankfully, Nanuet is in really good shape. We’ve taken it really seriously here."
Schlanger said that this is not just for New York State, but is a national movement.
“I believe that because of the accessibility of devices, cell phones, Twitter, Facebook and so on, I think we are seeing (bullying) on a different level (compared to older forms of bullying),”
In 2010, the Department of Education’s office of Civil Rights issued a letter stating that “if we (the school) don’t handle bullying incidents properly or fail to handle them, that there’s a liability now that’s attached to it.”
“The (Title IX) goal now is to eliminate bullying and hostile environments. It’s a lofty goal and ideal, but it’s something we have to strive for,” he said.
The law now says that no student will be subjected to harassment, discrimination or bullying by employees or students.
“When it says by employees, usually we think that teachers are looking after kids, but it’s conceivable that even a coach could misspeak in a coaching situation and that can be perceived as bullying,” said Schlanger. “We really need to be mindful of what the perceptions are of students and of parents.”
He added that he and Frank Mazzuca, Nanuet’s athletic director, had already discussed this situation.
Requirements that need to be in place before July 1:
- Revise code of conduct and adopt the policies
- Train all staff—which has been scheduled at Miller Elementary and Barr Middle School before the end of the school year because they have summer enrichment teachers
- One staff member in each school needs to be trained by the state as a Dignity Act Building Coordinator—“We’re going to have two per building.” (See below for a list of main coordinators)
- Change policies to account for the LGBT population
- Shift in standard of liability—if someone at the school has knowledge of bullying, but fails to act on it, there is a liability now. “We have to document it and act on it to avoid that liability.”
- Training needs to include non-instructional personnel, such as clerical staff, cafeteria staff, etc … “Everybody in the district is required to sit through training. Phil (Sions) and I were just talking about how to include Brega and the bus company.”
- Must include cyber bullying in the policies—texting, Facebook, Twitter, etc… This only applies if it happens in the school, not outside of school.
- Reporting procedure has to be included in the code of conduct. “It has to say how someone would report an incident of bullying.”
- It has to be posted on the school website as well
“I don’t think the bullies don’t necessarily understand the lasting effects of it. It’s amazing how many adults (can remember being bullied in middle and high school),” said Schlanger.
The code of conduct is approved in June each year by the board and it needs to have an age-appropriate version with language that students can understand.
Board Member Sarah Chauncey requested that posters or flyers be posted with information on this, possibly created or designed by students themselves. Schlanger added that the school may offer an informative meeting for parents as well.
The Nanuet Board of Education appointed certain staff as Dignity Act Coordinators for the district, which is a requirement of the anticipated new policies and regulations:
- Steven Schlanger, District Dignity Act Coordinator
- Jim Enright, Nanuet Sr. High School Dignity Act Coordinator
- Ruben Addarich, A. MacArthur Barr Middle School Dignity Act Coordinator
- Barbara Auriemma, Highview Elementary School Dignity Act Coordinator
- Betsy Smith, George W. Miller Elementary School Dignity Act Coordinator