Bullying is now being targeted by the state in a new legislative measure.
The most recent step taken in the fight against bullying is New York State's Dignity for All Students Act. The Dignity Act was signed into law in 2010 and went into effect in all NYS public schools on July 1.
According to its official website, the Dignity Act seeks to provide the state's public elementary and secondary school students with a safe and supportive environment free from discrimination, intimidation, taunting, harassment, and bullying on school property, a school bus and/or at a school function. According to Deke Kathman, superintendent of Jamestown Public Schools, the new legislation has had a minimal impact on JPS' code of conduct.
A young girl weeps during a memorial honoring teen Amanda Todd in Maple Ridge, B.C., Canada on Oct. 15. Todd, who was a victim of bullying, took her own life.
"Our codes of conduct haven't changed much as they covered about 98 percent of what Dignity brought forward," said Kathman. "The main difference is that we've become much more detail-oriented in our recordkeeping of infractions. There have been some tweaks (to the code of conduct) and certainly a change in recordkeeping, but disciplinary procedures have not been overhauled."
One requirement of the Dignity Act is that all schools provide detailed reports of all bullying and harassment incidents occurring throughout the year. These reports are looking at not only the quantity of incidents but where the incident occurred, whether on school property or at a school function, who the victims are and the nature of the incident such as: race, religion, gender or disability.
According to Kathman, Jamestown is moving forward with interventional processes to prevent bullying before it starts.
"We have an initiative called Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports," Kathman said. "What that does is intervene before an incident occurs by teaching positive behaviors to accommodate and encourage a healthy atmosphere and dissuade harassment, discrimination and bullying. We have some schools who have formed committees around PBIS and some who are just becoming aware of it."
Pete Morgante, superintendent of Pine Valley Central School, attests that the Dignity Act has reinforced the school's stance against bullying.
"Even though Dignity has been in place for over a year, we've always been addressing the issues of bullying and name-calling," said Morgante. "We have an anti-bullying program called Creating a Safe School, which has been serving grades K through 6 for the past four to five years."
Now that the legislation is in effect, the Pine Valley district is looking at creating new preventative measures.
"Our discipline referral forms now include a bullying option to help us track incidents and increase our discipline," said Morgante. "We're also going to have an assembly to discuss other steps we can take such as having students dress up and give public service announcements, maybe have a day for students to wear purple and take a color-coded stance against bullying. We really want to keep mentioning it every month and keep it at the forefront of everyone's mind."
Students at Clymer Central School are also seeing the effects of the Dignity Act in the hallways and on school buses.
"We have fully implemented the Dignity Act into our bullying-prevention program," said Ed Bailey, Clymer principal. "If anybody in the building, student or adult, is feeling like they are being threatened or bullied, they can grab a form from our website and turn it in to our coordinators, and then there will be a follow-up investigation."
The PBIS initiative is also being implemented in Clymer. According to Scott Aikens, chairman of the PBIS committee, the target area of PBIS at Clymer is school buses.
"This October was National School Bus Safety month," said Aikens. "We've tried to reinforce bus rules by actually going on the buses and talking to kids about proper and improper behaviors, with some demonstration involved. We also have a Pirate Pride committee, which encourages positive behaviors."