On Friday, a statewide task force will convene in Albany to begin implementing the Dignity for All Students Act – a new law that protects New York State public school students from bullying and bias-based harassment.

The New York Civil Liberties Union and members of the Dignity Coalition, including the Anti-Defamation League, the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network, the Empire State Pride Agenda, the New York Association for Gender Rights Advocacy and the New York State Union of Teachers, are represented on the task force.

“The Dignity Act empowers New York’s educators to provide all students a bias-free, safe and nurturing learning environment,” said New York Civil Liberties Union executive director Donna Lieberman. “But to truly fulfill its promise, it must be effectively implemented in every school district, and every school, in the state. We’re excited to work with the task force to make that happen.”

The Dignity Act, which takes effect July 1, 2012, protects students from all forms of bullying and harassment, 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.

If properly implemented, the Dignity Act will create a framework for promoting a more positive school culture through sensitivity and problem-solving training, providing teachers with the tools to recognize and respond to bullying, and requiring all students to participate in classroom curricula on diversity.

The State Education Department established the task force to implement the new law. The Task Force consists of a range of stakeholders, including teachers, students, parents, school administrators, advocates and state and local education officials, coming together to develop meaningful, practical, and adaptable solutions for school districts.

“Public involvement is crucial to the task force’s success,” said NYCLU Public Policy Counsel Johanna Miller. “The strength of the Dignity Act will come from the experiences, expertise, and ideas of parents, students, educators, and school board members across the state.”

Pervasive harassment and bullying make schools hostile places, undermining students’ ability to flourish. Students who are routinely harassed and bullied often struggle to develop the self-confidence and social skills needed to succeed in life.