- Last Updated on 02 August 2012
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ALBANY — Schools are developing new codes of conduct and training to address bullying after a state law approved nearly two years ago takes effect July 1. The Dignity for All Students Act was signed into law in September 2010. The measure expands the definition of bullying in schools’ codes of conduct and requires them to report incidents of discrimination and harassment to the state Education Department.
Schools said they are holding training sessions for staff and planning curriculum for different age groups to discourage bullying. Each school has to have a dignity coordinator to organize the effort and respond to bullying concerns from students and staff.
“We don’t view this as a punitive kind of thing. It’s more to restore the kind of atmosphere and culture in a district that everybody wants,” said Jane Briggs, a spokeswoman for the state Education Department.
Schools and state officials said they have received a growing number of complaints about bullying at school and through social media. The state Legislature last week passed an amendment to the dignity act that expands the law to include cyberbullying; it takes effect July 2013.
Sen. Stephen Saland, R-Poughkeepsie, said the 2010 law and the new provision on cyberbullying will allow schools to focus on ways to curb bullying in and out of the classroom.
“To the extent they occur on or off school grounds, if it impacts the student's learning environment … the school has the ability under its code of conduct to intercede,” said Saland, who sponsored the cyberbullying bill. “What's important is that these things need to be reported.”
School districts said they’ve spent the past year developing their new codes of conduct. In Fairport, the district created a new dignity logo that will be posted in schools when students return in September.
Debra Tandoi, Fairport’s developmental asset coordinator, said the district has long made tolerance of others a focus of its policies. The new law gave the district an opportunity to review and expand its guidelines, she said.
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“We’re just going to do the same things, just have a more intentional focus and to make sure that everyone in our district knows about the dignity act,” Tandoi said.
The Poughkeepsie School District will give students a brochure on the dignity act with an updated code of conduct when students return. Staff has also been trained on the new law, said Lynne Pampel, assistant superintendent for pupil personnel.
Pampel said the law comes at an opportune time because cyberbullying continues to gain exposure.
“There has always been bullying, but it’s much more virulent than it has been in the past because of the cyber component,” she said.
Some officials have questioned whether the new law is another unfunded mandate on schools. But Linda Bakst, deputy director of policy services for the state School Boards Association, said schools have to proactively address bullying because it can impact the classroom learning.
“The district has a unique position because they are kind of the institution at the center of a community,” Bakst said.
A survey in June by the Independent Democratic Conference in the state Senate found that 68 percent of students said they either witnessed or had been personally victimized by cyberbullying. Less than 1 in 5 said they reported the abuse to an adult.
Nearly 10,000 students from 45 counties and 350 schools completed the survey, said Sen. Jeff Klein, D-Bronx, who commissioned it.
Klein wants to make cyberbullying a specific crime, saying it would help schools and parents with enforcement.
“I think the way to solve that problem and take all of the burden off the teachers and administrators is to make cyberbullying a crime,” Klein said.
Schools and lawmakers have shied away from Klein’s proposal. Some have argued that current harassment laws can be used to prosecute serious bullying offenses.
Implementing the new law hasn’t been a major burden, said Kathleen Costello, spokeswoman for the Elmira School District.
The district has dealt with steep fiscal woes and eliminated nearly 270 positions over the past two years.
Costello said the dignity act has been incorporated into the code of conduct and into bullying prevention programs the district already had.
“Anytime that schools can be helpful with what is a national problem, it’s only beneficial for all students,” she said.
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