Many New York schools fall short when it comes to protecting students from harassment and discrimination based on gender, race, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity, according to an audit released in Rochester today by New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli.
The audit released today examined New York state schools’ compliance with the Dignity for All Students Act (DASA). On Sept. 25, DiNapoli engaged a similar audit focused on New York City schools.
“The Dignity for All Students Act was created to protect students but four years later, many schools remain unsure of what to do and make serious errors in reporting incidents of harassment and bullying,” DiNapoli said. “All students deserve schools that support them and are safe and free from harassment and bullying. School districts must protect students’ rights and ensure thorough training for school staff. We appreciate that the State Education Department agrees with our recommendations and is taking steps to help school officials improve their ability to safeguard students.”
"The Dignity for All Students Act is an effective vehicle in creating a safe and productive environment for students when it is well implemented and when schools are in compliance,” said Assemblymember Daniel J. O'Donnell, sponsor of the Dignity for All Students Act. “Unfortunately, the audit shows that DASA is not being actively implemented—highlighted by deficient reporting by schools and shortcomings in the compliance of DASA training. It is clear that these are symptoms of a lack of resources and dedicated oversight. I will be calling for the specific allocation of funds to NYSED for the creation of dedicated DASA compliance personnel. I thank Comptroller DiNapoli for his audit of the implementation of Dignity, and look forward to improving how we implement this important measure in ending bullying in schools."
“No matter who you are, what you look like or where you come from, we all deserve full equality and the chance to succeed, especially within our public education system,” said Assemblymember Harry Bronson. “We must do our best to teach students the importance of dignity and respect and to protect them from harassment and discrimination. I look forward to working with Comptroller DiNapoli and the State Education Department to help our schools meet DASA guidelines and reporting requirements.”
"The Dignity Act was crafted to help provide students a safe and supportive learning environment. School is formative,” said Scott Fearing, executive director of the OUT Alliance in Rochester, which hosted DiNapoli’s announcement. “A nurturing school can improve the opportunities available to youth as they grow and mature. We hope and expect Comptroller DiNapoli's audit will assist school districts as they work to uphold the Dignity Act and the security it promises students."
“The LGBT Network applauds the leadership and important work being done by Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli to shine a light on the implementation of the Dignity for All Students Act,” said Dr. David Kilmnick, President and CEO of the LGBT Network. “The LGBT Network offers numerous educational resources and interactive, dynamic trainings that help school districts meet DASA requirements. These educational sessions help to foster a safe and supportive school environment that tackles the epidemic of bullying and hate that is unfortunately on the rise.”
The audit found that despite guidance from the State Education Department (SED), many schools had not implemented some critical requirements, such as ensuring that key contact information is widely accessible. Several schools lacked training and others made significant errors when it came to reporting incidents under DASA.
In the school year that ended June 2016, New York school districts (excluding New York City) reported 16,938 verified incidents of discrimination and harassment and 2,472 incidents of cyberbullying.
DiNapoli’s auditors visited a sample of 20 schools (outside of New York City) and found that:
- Some schools underreported incidents or failed to report them at all, including one case in which a school failed to report cyberbullying despite the fact that police were involved;
- Another school failed to report a pattern of bullying that had persisted since the victim’s prior attendance at another school;
- Some incident reports were so short on important details — one report only referred to “name calling,” for example — that it was impossible to determine if they were reportable under DASA;
- Seventeen of the schools said they struggle with interpreting or implementing DASA guidance and reporting requirements;
- At one school the person responsible for electronically entering DASA incident information was unable to demonstrate how to enter a DASA incident;
- Schools said they continue to have difficulty identifying what comprises a material incident that needs to be reported and they struggle with differing conceptions of what constitutes “bullying,”
- Several schools did not train non-educational staff on DASA, creating a risk that bullying incidents that these staff witness or learn about may not be addressed appropriately, if at all; and
- Although each school has a Dignity Act Coordinator trained to mediate incidents in areas of race, religion, gender, and sexual orientation, most of the schools did not provide the Coordinator’s name and contact information to staff, students and parents.
DiNapoli’s audit attributed the problems to school personnel’s lack of knowledge, experience, and training in identifying, documenting, investigating, and reporting DASA incidents.
Auditors’ analysis of data submitted to SED for 2,153 schools showed that 678 (31 percent) did not report any incidents over three school years from 2013-2014 through 2015-2016. For example, not one of the 39 schools in Yonkers City School District reported an incident of bullying or harassment under DASA during that three-year period. Among those that did report incidents, the audit noted that some of the 20 schools in its sample reported almost all incidents under “Other,” instead of citing one of the 11 specific DASA bias categories such as race, ethnicity, weight or sex.
DiNapoli recommended that SED take steps to assess weaknesses in implementing DASA and assign adequate resources to promote schools’ compliance with it, work with training partners to enhance DASA training, and remind schools that they are required to keep records of incidents. SED agreed with the audit recommendations and noted that a new reporting structure takes effect in the coming school year.
Read the report, or go to: http://osc.state.ny.us/audits/allaudits/093018/16s28.pdf
DASA seeks to provide students in New York with a secure environment free from discrimination. Research shows that students who are bullied or harassed are more likely to miss days of school, experience higher rates of depression, and have lower academic achievement and aspirations. Provisions of Article 2 of the Education Law, effective July 1, 2012, include curriculum and annual reporting requirements and require schools to designate a trained Dignity Act Coordinator (DAC). An amendment effective July 1, 2013 defined cyberbullying and added other requirements for investigating and reporting alleged incidents. SED provides guidance to assist school districts in complying with DASA requirements and makes annual school incident data available to the public on its website.
In September 2016, SED and members of the New York State Safe Schools Task Force proposed a method of reframing existing incident reporting requirements in an effort to simplify school incident reporting and better identify student safety issues. The new regulations were approved by the Board of Regents in December 2016 and took effect July 1, 2017.
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