NYCLU, Dignity Coalition Applaud State Senate for Passing Anti-Bullying Legislation

June 22, 2010 —  The Dignity for All Students Act Coalition – which includes the New York Civil Liberties Union, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), NYSUT, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and the Empire State Pride Agenda – today applauded the New York State Senate for passing the Dignity for All Students Act, legislation that will protect children from pervasive bullying and bias-based harassment in the state’s public schools.

“This is a major victory for children, parents and educators across the state,” NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman said. “No child should be afraid to go to school. With this vote, the State Senate has empowered New York’s educators to fulfill their responsibility to provide all students a safe, nurturing learning environment.”

The Dignity for All Students Act, which had passed the Assembly seven times only to stall in the Senate, will amend state Education Law to protect public school students from severe and pervasive harassment and discrimination, including “verbal threats, intimidation or abuse,” based on race, color, national origin, ethnicity, religion, religious practice, weight, disability, sexual orientation, gender or sex. The bill’s protections are not limited to these categories.

“This issue has been allowed to languish far too long,” said NYSUT Executive Vice President Andrew Pallotta, who oversees the union’s legislative and political operations. “We applaud the Legislature’s action on this very important matter, and we urge the governor to sign the Dignity for All Students Act into law.”

As part of the legislation, teachers and staff will receive regular training to properly address instances of harassment and discrimination. The new law will require monitoring and reporting of such incidents.

“This legislation is critical to ensuring the safety of New York children. The training and accountability provisions of DASA will impact every school in the state by giving them the tools to do something about bullying and harassment,” said ADL New York Regional Director Ron Meier.

The dignity bill defines harassment in a manner that appropriately excludes speech and expression that is entitled to First Amendment protections, and aims to protect all students from any harassment that substantially interferes with their education.

“This is a watershed moment for New York schools, which are about to get safer for all students. GLSEN applauds the New York State Legislature for taking comprehensive action against all forms of bullying and ensuring that all students are protected under the law,” GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard said. “After 10 long years of work to pass this legislation, GLSEN is pleased that New York will now join nine other states that have passed effective, enumerated safe schools legislation.”

The nine other states that have enumerated anti-bullying laws are California, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oregon, Vermont and Washington. Three additional states – Colorado, Maine and Minnesota – and the District of Columbia have nondiscrimination laws that include protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity/expression.

“While this legislation will help make schools harassment-free zones for all students, it is also the first-ever New York State law that includes explicit protections based on gender identity and expression, and we are particularly pleased that the Legislature had taken the important step of making schools safe for transgender youth,” said Empire State Pride Agenda Executive Director Ross D. Levi. “No student should be targeting for bullying just because they are different.”

Last week, Gov. David Paterson introduced legislation that would complement the dignity bill by requiring schools to follow the state’s human rights law against discrimination and establishing a school violence hotline. He has previously pledged to sign the Dignity for All Students Act into law. The State Assembly passed the bill on May 17.

For months, the Dignity for All Students Act Coalition has been organizing in support of the dignity bill. The legislation is supported by more than 100 additional organizations statewide including the Asian American Legal Defense Fund, Citizen Action of New York State, the Council for Supervisors and Administrators (CSA), the National Education Association (NEA) – New York, the National Organization of Women (NOW New York State, as well as the Albany and New York City chapters), the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), the Sikh Coalition, Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) and Latino Justice: PRLDEF.