Eric Schneiderman for Attorney General

Schneiderman, Elia advise districts on how to be ‘safe havens’ amidst bigotry

November 21, 2016

As published in the Albany Times Union on November 18, 2016.

Continuing on this week’s theme of state officials batting back against episodes of bigotry, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia on Friday sent a letter to school districts with guidance for dealing with discrimination, harassment and intimidation directed against students and employees.

The letter references incidents of bias and acts of vandalism, harassment, bullying and violence that have been occurring across the state since the presidential election, often directly related to race, ethnicity, religion and immigration status.

“As the leaders of New York’s education and law enforcement agencies, we want to remind all school administrators and school communities that these types of acts are counter to our shared values, and that the law empowers school districts to respond to such acts,” they wrote.

The letter asks districts to review and publicize the systems they have in place to protect students, including codes of conduct and processes for reporting bullying and violent outbursts through the Dignity for All Students Act (DASA) and Violent and Disruptive Incident Reporting (VADIR). Schneiderman and Elia also reminded districts that their respective agencies will be available to assist schools in providing supports and resources for staff, students, parents and community members.

View the full press release and letter below:

STATE EDUCATION COMMISSIONER ELIA AND A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN OFFER GUIDANCE TO HELP ENSURE SCHOOLS ARE SAFE HAVENS FOR LEARNING

Letter to School Leaders Provides Resources for Complying with the Dignity for All Students Act and Preventing and Addressing Hate-Based Actions

State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia and Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today sent a letter to school districts with guidance on how to ensure schools are safe havens where students are free to learn without fear of discrimination, harassment or intimidation directed toward students and employees as a result of their race, ethnicity, religion, immigration status, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or any other basis.

“There is literally nothing more important than the safety of our children. As adults we are morally bound to ensure both their physical and emotional well-being,” Commissioner Elia said. “Students must feel safe in the classroom to be able to learn. As state and educational leaders, it is our responsibility to foster an open dialogue with students and employees about discrimination, harassment and intimidation and send a strong message that these types of behaviors will not be tolerated in our schools. I am so pleased that our state’s leadership – Governor Cuomo, Attorney General Schneiderman and Speaker Heastie – recognize the importance of supporting our schools as they address this difficult issue with our children. I encourage school leaders to host gatherings for students and employees to help prevent hate-based words and actions and to inform them of what to do if they witness or experience any such hateful acts.”

“We will not allow hateful rhetoric and acts of discrimination to follow students into the classroom, which must remain a place for our children to learn and grow in a positive and safe environment,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “I encourage all schools and educators to consider how they can foster constructive dialogue among students in order to combat hate and create a culture of understanding and respect. As always, my office is ready and willing to serve as a resource for schools that need assistance implementing the guidelines of the Dignity for All Students Act, designed to protect students from bullying and intimidation in schools. Families across New York should know that we are ready to ensure that our children will not be subjected to prejudice or bigotry.”

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said, “One of our greatest responsibilities as a society is protecting our children from any challenges to their well-being.  The recent increase in reports of harassment and intimidation in schools is extremely troubling, but we will remain vigilant in our efforts to ensure that New York is a safe home for all our citizens. As we have done before, we will work together to raise awareness and support our educators in their mission to provide safe havens where students can learn in inclusive environments and celebrate their diversity without fear or intimidation. The Assembly Majority is grateful to Commissioner Elia and Attorney General Schneiderman for their leadership in moving this issue forward. I would especially like to commend my colleague, Assembly member Danny O’Donnell, for his tireless efforts in championing the Dignity for All Students Act, which will now be our guide in achieving this important mission.”

Assembly member Cathy Nolan said, “There is no question that recent incidents have raised concerns for our children and threaten the inclusivity and equality that we have all worked so hard to achieve for them. It is absolutely critical that students feel safe and supported during their time at school. Thanks to the leadership of Assembly member Danny O’Donnell and his commitment to protecting our children with the Dignity for All Students Act, we have a strong foundation from which to step up our efforts.  I commend Commissioner Mary Ellen Elia, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, Speaker Heastie and the Board of Regents for their swift attention and response to these troubling events.”

To view the letter, visit: http://www.p12.nysed.gov/sss/docs/sed-ag-joint-letter-11-18-16.pdf.