The state of New York has taken great measures over the past few years to protect our students from being bullied and harassed. New York State legislature enacted the Dignity For All Students Act (DASA) in 2012 prohibiting the harassment and discrimination of students by students and by school personnel. This was in response to the large number of harassed and stigmatized students skipping school and engaging in high-risk behaviors. The act is designed to create more nurturing and safe environments in all New York public schools by:
- Protecting all public and secondary school students.
- Each school’s Code of Conduct must be amended to reflect the prohibition of discrimination and harassment of students 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 (including athletic fields, playgrounds, and parking lots), in school buildings, on a school bus/vehicle, as well as at school-sponsored events or activities).
- All New York State administrators and teaching staff must become DASA certified.
- Administrators must report incidents of bullying or bias-based harassment to the NYS Department of Education.
DASA training covers such topics as understanding diversity and examining personal biases, understanding school climate and culture, developing sensitivity to the experience of specific populations, and prevention and intervention strategies. In order to effectively respond to such incidences, it is very important to understand the difference between bullying and harassment. It was recently reported to staff members at my school that on referrals or behavior incident reports, the behaviors are often identified incorrectly, making it more difficult for administrators to respond to and correctly report incidents. In light of this matter, the school counselor disseminated a document to all staff members to remind them of the differences between teasing (friendly and hurtful), peer conflicts, and bullying.
Another effective system we have in place at our school is PBIS or Positive Behavior Intervention System. This is a key component in the student management system that encourages positive behaviors through recognition and rewards. Data on behaviors are shared monthly to staff members and quarterly to students at Kindness assemblies. These events are also used to recognize students that have expressed kindness or compassion to another and are nominated by a teacher.
I look forward to hearing how various countries abroad respond to these issues!