City Council grants the mayor more time to tailor legislation meant to protect city’s students
At the April 26 hearing, the Bloomberg administration pledged to work with the Council to provide documentation and make specific allowances that the Council says are currently missing from the administration’s policies regarding harassment in schools. Department of Education officials have expressed opposition to the legislation, stating that the bill encroaches upon executive branch prerogatives and would adversely impact school funding.
“At the hearing, the administration offered to do a number of things that we were requiring in the legislation, so post-hearing we had a meeting,” said Moskowitz in an interview. “We’ve issued a very detailed letter reiterating what they’ve promised to do and I think we need to give them a week or so to do those things.”
The Dignity in All Schools Act (DASA) would require school administrators and teachers to report and stop bullying and harassment based on race, color, national origin, ethnic group, religion, religious practice, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, and a number of other characteristics.
The Dignity Coalition, a steering committee of DASA proponents that includes many of the city’s gay, lesbian and transgendered leaders, helped draft the legislation and pressed to have sexual orientation and gender identity included.
Statistics demonstrate that all students are negatively affected by bias harassment, but gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students and those perceived to be LGBT, suffer severe and widespread harassment in city schools. According to Kevin Jennings, executive director of the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, a Dignity Coalition member, the average high school student hears anti-gay slurs 25 times a day. Furthermore, 90 percent of queer youth regularly hear homophobic remarks in school, with almost half saying they themselves are the targets of daily verbal harassment.
Among its key provisions, DASA would develop rules to specifically prohibit bullying and harassment; train school officials and staff to systematically address the problem; develop mechanisms for the tracking and reporting of such incidences; and, incorporate discrimination awareness and sensitivity into education materials and presentations.
“The administration is to supply the information it has on bullying, demonstrating that it is tracked in schools, copies of reports, and incidences of harassment,” said Dirk McCall, chief of staff for Council Member Alan Gerson (D-Manhattan), the primary sponsor of the bill.
The Council also stipulates that anti-bullying protections be written into the citywide code of conduct in public schools. Pending the outcome of negotiations with the Department of Education, the Council will move on scheduling the bill for a vote.
McCall said the committee expects a response from the administration by May 10. “The bill would not wind up in a full council vote before June 2,” he said.
“We in the coalition are confident that we have the full support of the speaker and the chair,” said Pauline Park, co-chair of the New York Association for Gender Rights Advocacy and a member of the Dignity Coalition.
Park said that the Department of Education, which, despite several hearings, has not provided evidence that it has addressed bullying and harassment in schools, had ample time to address the council members’ stated concerns.
“This bill has been pending for a very long time,” Park said. “The administration should have raised these concerns long ago in a coherent, consistent manner.”
Last week, Council Member Christine Quinn stated that the administration often makes last minute concessions to negotiate on the terms of a proposed bill. “It’s not quite as daunting as [one might] think,” she said.
Moskowitz said that if by the “next opportunity” to meet with the Council the administration has not sufficiently addressed the issues that have been outlined, the education committee will move ahead and “will schedule the vote for the full City Council.”