The Dignity For All Students Act (DASA)

The Dignity for All Students Act was signed into law on September 13, 2010. This legislation amended State Education Law by creating a new Article 2 – Dignity for All Students. The Dignity Act also amended Section 801-a of New York State Education Law regarding instruction in civility, citizenship, and character education by expanding the concepts of tolerance, respect for others and dignity to include: an awareness and sensitivity in the relations of people, including but not limited to, different races, weights, national origins, ethnic groups, religions, religious practices, mental or physical abilities, sexual orientations, gender identity, and sexes. The Dignity Act further amended Section 2801 of the Education Law by requiring Boards of Education to include language addressing The Dignity Act in their codes of conduct. Additionally, under the Dignity Act, schools will be responsible for collecting and reporting data regarding material incidents of discrimination and harassment.

Bullying, Harassment, Cyberbullying

Harassment is the creation of a hostile environment that has or would have the effect of unreasonably and substantially interfering with a student’s educational performance, opportunities or benefits, or mental, emotional or physical well-being.

Bullying is an unwanted, aggressive intentional form of harassment that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Bullying includes such actions as making threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone physically or verbally and excluding someone from a group on purpose.

Cyberbullying is bullying that takes place using electronic technology. Examples of cyberbullying include mean text messages or e-mails, rumors sent by e-mail or posted on social networking sites and embarrassing pictures, videos, websites or fake profiles.

Discrimination, as defined by the New York State Education Department (NYSED), is the “denial of equal treatment, admission and/or access to programs, facilities and services based on the person’s actual or perceived race, color, weight, national origin, ethnic group, religion, religious practice, disability, sexual orientation, gender (including gender identity), or sex.”

What is bullying?

Bullying can take many forms. Here are some of the more common characteristics of bullying:

  • Physical: Hitting, punching, shoving, kicking, pinching, spitting, tripping, pushing, taking or breaking someone’s property and making mean or rude hand gestures.
  • Verbal: Using words to hurt, humiliate or ridicule someone, such as name calling, teasing, taunting, threatening, insulting or making inappropriate sexual comments.
  • Social/Relational: Spreading rumors about someone, excluding others on purpose, telling other children not to be friends with someone and embarrassing someone in public, manipulating friends and relationships (i.e., posting rude or embarrassing comments or pictures on social networking sites for all friends to see, making suggestions via e-mail or text message to unfriend someone.)
  • Prejudicial: Making racial slurs, making fun of cultural, religious or other differences.
  • Sexual harassment: Using suggestive words or inappropriate touch, e-mailing or texting inappropriate pictures of self or someone else.

Bullying usually occurs between individuals who are not friends. The bully may be bigger, tougher or have the power to exclude others from their social group. Lots of kids joke around with their friends, which might include innocent name-calling or rough-housing, but these incidents are not necessarily bullying.

Bullying has three characteristics that set it apart:

  • There is a power difference between the bully and the victim
  • The bully intends to hurt, embarrass or humiliate the other person
  • The behavior is repeated—with others or with the same person over time

The National School Safety Center explains that boys and girls tend to bully in different ways. Boys are more direct or inclined to physically and verbally abuse others. Girls are more indirect—typically focusing on relationships or ruining another’s reputation. Whether the bullying is direct or indirect, the key component of bullying is that the physical or psychological intimidation occurs repeatedly over time to create an ongoing pattern of harassment and abuse.

Here are a few ways to tell if a child is being bullied:

  • Unexplainable injuries
  • Subtle changes in behavior, such as being withdrawn, anxious, preoccupied, having a loss of interest in school or in a favorite pastime
  • Coming home with bruises and scratches, torn or dirtied clothing, or missing or damaged school or personal items (i.e., books, cell phones or other electronic devices, jewelry, sneakers)
  • A loss of appetite
  • Changes in eating habits, like suddenly skipping meals or binge eating (for example, coming home from school hungry because he or she did not eat lunch)
  • Excessive trips to the school nurse or faking sickness to stay home from school
  • Loss of sleep, nightmares, crying in one’s sleep
  • Afraid or reluctant to go to school in the morning
  • Feeling lonely
  • Sensitive or withdrawn when asked about his or her day at school
  • Avoidance of such areas as the playground, cafeteria or restrooms
  • Declining grades, loss of interest in schoolwork or not wanting to go to school
  • Sudden loss of friends or avoidance of social situations
  • Loss of interest in activities formerly enjoyed
  • Feelings of helplessness or decreased self-esteem
  • Self-destructive behaviors, such as running away from home, self-harm or talking about suicide
  • (Source: National PTA, http://www.pta.org, and Capital Region BOCES)

Signs that children are bullying others:

  • Get into physical or verbal fights
  • Have friends who bully others
  • Are increasingly aggressive
  • Have no regard for other people’s feelings
  • Disrespect authority and/or rules
  • Disrespect the opposite gender and people of different races, ethnicities or religions
  • Get sent to the principal’s office or to detention frequently
  • Have unexplained extra money or new belongings
  • Blame others for their problems
  • Lie to get out of trouble
  • Deliberately hurt pets or animals
  • Use anger to get what they want
  • Refuse to accept responsibility for their actions
  • Are competitive and worry about their reputation or popularity

REMEMBER: Bullying almost always requires adult intervention. Kids who bully engage in bullying behavior toward their peers. There are many factors that may contribute to this behavior. Often, these youth require support to change their behavior and address any other challenges that may be influencing them. Don’t hesitate to speak to a counselor at your child’s school and ask for help.

Kids who are bullied: Some factors put children at greater risk of being bullied. If you are worried that your child is being bullied, seek help from school administration or counselors right away.

Bystanders: Even kids who are not bullies and who are not bullied are impacted by bullying behavior. They witness it happening and they may either encourage it, avoid it or try to discourage it. These children may need support and help to deal with the bullying they observe; your school counselor can help!

Most kids play more than one role in bullying over time. It is important to note the multiple roles kids play, because those who are both bullied and bully others may be at more risk for negative outcomes, such as depression or suicidal tendencies. It also highlights the need to engage all kids in prevention efforts, not just those who are known to be directly involved.

How do we stop the bullying?

Getting picked on—once considered just a part of being a kid—is no longer being shrugged off. Today, educators, counselors and parents know that victims of bullying often carry the emotional scars well into their adult lives. School educators say that the best way to help prevent bullying is early education.

Traditionally, bullying prevention programs were focused on the bully and the victim. However, new approaches now shine a light on the important role a witness or bystander can play in stopping bullies in their tracks. Bystanders can be just as harmed by watching bullying as they are by being bullied. Witnesses often feel powerless and may experience fear, sadness, anger, guilt or shame at not being able to stop the incident. However, standing up for others can take a lot of courage.

Here are some ways that you can help further encourage your children to take a stand against bullying without being afraid:

  • Talk with your children about bullying. Ask them about what they witness. Keep the lines of communication open so that you will likely be the one they confide in.
  • Let your children know it is OK to report bullying. Make it safe for your children to tell you and other adults about things they have seen and what bothers them. Listen carefully to what they are saying and guide your child in seeing how dangerous bullying can be if not stopped.
  • Help your child empathize with the victim. It’s much easier for children to ignore a situation if the person being bullied is not a friend. Talk with your children about how they would feel if they or one of their close friends were in the victim’s shoes. Work with your child to develop strategies to help those being bullied. For instance, if rumors are being spread about someone, you can counsel your children to counter it with the truth. Help the victim stick up for him or herself by providing support.
  • Enlist the help of others. Bystanders far outnumber the bullies. With children who are reluctant to help stop bullying, the aid of a sympathetic friend or two might make the difference.

What do I do if I think my child is a bully?

Talk to your child about the specific behavior and why it is wrong. Does your child understand that the behavior is unacceptable? Calmly tell your child that bullying will not be tolerated. Ask your child WHY he or she bullied. Try to understand the reasons and offer solutions.

Use consequences to teach – not humiliate. Call your child’s teacher, principal, social worker, guidance counselor to talk about what happened and strategies for moving forward. Continue to talk to your child about positive behavior and how his or her behavior impacts others.