Local school districts say they're ready to deal with cases of bullying and harassment by following new guidelines in the state's Dignity for All Students Act, which took effect July 1.
The act, signed into law in 2010, provides the state's public 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 New York State Education Department.
The measure calls for awareness and sensitivity regarding people of different races, weight, national origin, ethnicity, religions, mental or physical abilities, sexes, sexual orientation, and gender identities or expressions.
Under the law, all public elementary and secondary school students are protected. The law says the harassment and discrimination of students by students or school personnel is prohibited. It also says each school's code of conduct must be amended to reflect the prohibition of discrimination and harassment by students or staff in age-appropriate language; districts must appoint at least one staff member in each school to handle all bullying incidents on school property; and administrators must report incidents of bullying or bias-based harassment to the state Department of Education.
A recent amendment to the law also urges schools to stop instances of cyberbullying by handling it within the school. That measure cracks down on cyberbullying carried out in emails, text-messages and social networks, and will go into effect July 1, 2013.
DASA will allow the Gloversville Enlarged School District to be more effective in fighting bullying between students on and off campus, said Interim Superintendent Clifford Moses.
Patrick Michel, interim superintendent of the Fonda-Fultonville Central School District and superintendent of the Hamilton-Fulton-Montgomery Board of Cooperative Educational Services, said each school building in each school district must appoint a staff member to handle bullying incidents.
At Fonda-Fultonville, he appointed coordinators for the elementary, middle and high schools to act as the "go-to person" for students. The coordinators will train the staff of the schools on how to look out for bullying, harassment and other issues covered by the law.
BOCES, Michel said, will train the coordinators at local school districts.
Michel said the school districts will not be charged for the training.
He said the local schools' cost for compensating each coordinator would depend on each district's teachers contract.
In some cases, the duties may be added to an existing employee's job description without additional compensation. In other cases, employees may be paid a stipend for the additional duties.
Michel said the Dignity Act does not differ much from what other school codes of conduct have had in place.
"If a school district already had a good code of conduct, they were already taking this into account. However, there were schools that did not," Michel said.
Under the new law, teachers would not be permitted to allow bullying to occur.
"They can't sit back and tolerate situations where a child is effeminate or gay and students are abusing them in some way, which [school districts] had happen," Michel said.
Northville Central School District Superintendent Kathy Dougherty said her district has appointed William Crankshaw as its Dignity Act coordinator.
Dougherty said the district's code of conduct had already contained the language of the Dignity Act.
Dougherty said, based on the code of conduct, any issues involving harassment are handled firmly, fairly and consistently.
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