The Dignity Act is New York’s first comprehensive statewide anti-bullying legislation and stands as a powerful tool against discrimination and harassment in public elementary and secondary schools. The Attorney General and Commissioner based the guidance on the needs identified in a joint statewide survey of school districts concerning compliance with the Dignity Act. The guidance and training materials were developed after a comprehensive review of district responses to the joint survey, and consideration of steps districts have taken across New York to provide their students with safe school environments.
“It’s vitally important that students feel comfortable coming forward with fears of discrimination or harassment in our schools, and equally important that schools honestly report their responses to these issues,” Attorney General Schneiderman said. “I am pleased to continue our partnership with the New York State Education Department to ensure that all of our students have the safe and welcoming learning environments they deserve. I deeply appreciate the participation of school districts that responded to the survey. Their thoughtful responses, and the challenges and successes they described, greatly assisted our agencies in developing additional guidance and materials to help schools keep their students safe.”
New York State Commissioner of Education Mary Ellen Elia, said, “Far too many children go to school in fear every day – afraid they will be taunted, teased, bullied and even physically harmed, just because others perceive them as different. It is a national tragedy that can’t be ignored or allowed to continue. The Regents and I are grateful for Attorney General Schneiderman’s partnership as we continue to bring awareness about this critical issue to our schools and to the public. We are grateful, as well, for the Attorney General’s assistance in disseminating guidance and training materials to help our school leaders establish policies and procedures to create school environments that are free from harassment, bullying and discrimination.”
The Dignity Act, which became law in 2010, requires school districts to (i) modify their Codes of Conduct to include prohibitions on harassment, bullying, and discrimination, and disseminate the updated code to students and their parents, (ii) train school employees on topics of bullying, harassment, and discrimination, (iii) designate Dignity Act Coordinators for each district school, and (iv) provide students with instruction intended to discourage harassment, bullying, and discrimination.
The Act became law in 2010, with an effective date of 2012 for its major provisions. In the decade leading up to the bill’s passage, awareness grew nationally about the epidemic nature of bullying within schools. In 2009, more than 7 million U.S. students ages 12 to 18 – 28 percent – reported being bullied at school. A 2011 survey of New York high school students revealed that nearly 18 percent had been bullied on school property. Prior to passage of the Dignity Act, only 1 in 5 students in New York State attended a school with a comprehensive anti-bullying and anti-harassment policy.