Labor and Employment Protections Enter New York State Schools

By: Cameron Daniels

The Dignity for All Students Act[1] came into effect July 1, 2012, after being passed by the New York State Legislature in May, 2012.[2] The Act is intended to protect students from harassment by both employees and students in New York State schools.[3]

Specifically, the Dignity for All Students Act maintains that:

 No student shall be subjected to harassment or bullying by employees on school property or at a school function; nor shall any student be subjected to discrimination based on a person’s actual or perceived race, color, weight, national origin, ethnic group, religion, religious practice, disability, sexual orientation, gender, or sex by school employees or students on school property or at a school function.”[4]

The language used here by the New York State Legislature should sound familiar, as it has been borrowed from established labor and employment case law, as provided in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.[5] The protected classes laid out in the Dignity Act are essentially the same as those listed in the Act of 1964. Additionally, in defining “harassment”, the Legislature borrowed the “hostile environment” standard established by the EEOC[6] and affirmed by Supreme Court in Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson.[7]

The New York State Assembly had passed a version of the bill every year since 2002, but until 2010 it had never made it through the Senate, where it finally passed by a vote of 58 to 3.[8] The U.S. Department of Education released a report in 2011 which revealed that in the 2007 school year, over eight million students between the ages of 12 and 18 reported being bullied in some way in the U.S., or 31.7 percent of the U.S. school student population.[9]

What does the Act mean employees of New York State school districts? Put simply, the Act puts the onus on employees such as teachers and administrators to get involved when they see an act of bullying and harassment.[10] Though the Act did not include a policy or guideline for school districts to follow, it did require the New York State Commissioner of Education to help school districts implement the legislation, and in June the Commissioner put out a Sample Policy Guideline for districts.[11] The Sample Policy requires employees to track, document, and report any instance of student-to-student and/or staff-to-student discrimination, harassment, or bullying.[12]

In addition, the Legislature recently amended Dignity Act, after initial disappointment that the Law did not include a cyber-bullying provision.[13] This provision is particularly important as it imposes a duty on employees to report and document instances of cyber-bullying and harassment that occurs not only on school property, but off of it as well, so as long as such cyber-bullying “creates or would foreseeably create a risk of substantial disruption within the school environment, where it is foreseeable that the conduct, threats, intimidation or abuse might reach school property.”[14] This is a dangerous proposition for school employees, as they must be extra vigilant in their efforts to prevent bullying, whether it occur in person or online.

The Dignity for All Students Act is an important piece of legislation in New York State. In borrowing from established labor and employment law, New York has taken significant steps to ensure a safe and healthy school environment for public school students. In 2012-2013, its first year of implementation, it is most certainly an area that bears watching.


[1] Dignity for All Students Act, N.Y. Educ. Law §§ 10-18 (McKinney 2012).

[2] Isolde Raftery, Antibullying Bill Goes to the Governor, N.Y. Times, June 23, 2010, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/24/nyregion/24bully.html

[3] Dignity for All Students Act, N.Y. Educ. Law § 12 (McKinney 2012).

[4] Dignity for All Students Act, N.Y. Educ. Law § 12 (McKinney 2012).

[5] Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000(e) et seq (1964).

[6] 29 C.F.R. § 1604.11 (1980).

[7] Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson, 106 S.Ct. 2399, at 2404, 2405 (U.S. 1986).

[8] See Isolde Rafter, Antibullying Bill Goes to the Governor, N.Y. Times, June 23, 2010, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/24/nyregion/24bully.html

[9] National Center for Education Statistics, Student Reports of Bullying and Cyber-Bullying: Results from the 2007 School Crime Supplement to the National Crime Victimization Survey (2011), nces.ed.gov/pubs2011/2011316.pdf

[10] New York State Education Department, Dignity for All Students Act (Dignity Act) Guidance for Updating Codes of Conduct (2012), http://www.p12.nysed.gov/dignityact/documents/DASACodeofConductFinal44-1.pdf

[11] New York State Education Department, Dignity for All Students Act Student Discrimination, Harassment, Bullying Prevention and Intervention: Sample Local Policy Guideline (2012), http://www.p12.nysed.gov/dignityact/documents/LocalDASAModelPolicyRev6-22-12_1.pdf

[12] Id.

[13] See Isolde Rafter, Antibullying Bill Goes to the Governor, N.Y. Times, June 23, 2010, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/24/nyregion/24bully.html

[14] N.Y. Educ. Law § 11 amended by N.Y. Educ. Law § 11(7) (2012).

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