New York State issues guidance for schools to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion

State Attorney General Letitia James.
State Attorney General Letitia James.
Donna Aceto

State leaders are stepping up to issue guidance for New York public schools ahead of the school year in an effort to further promote diversity, equity, and inclusion.

The guidance, rolled out by New York State Attorney General Letitia James and New York State Education Department Commissioner Betty A. Rosa this month, specifically pertains to three key areas: learning and teaching, student discipline, and addressing bullying and harassment. 

The guidance aims to provide a reminder — and clarity — to schools at a time when the education system has been under attack by conservative leaders, primarily in other states, who have targeted LGBTQ rights, racial justice, and reproductive rights in schools, libraries, and other areas. The guidance comes two months after New York State issued trans-inclusive guidance for schools.

“Every student in New York is entitled to learn, grow, and discover in an environment free from discrimination or harassment,” James said in a written statement. “As states such as Texas, Florida, and Missouri are banning books and canceling classes, New York is making clear that diversity, equity, and inclusion will always be protected and central to our children’s education. We know that our kids and teachers thrive when they feel seen and heard, and I thank Commissioner Rosa and Chancellor Young for their partnership in supporting our communities. If any student, parent, or teacher has concerns, I encourage them to contact my office.”

The first piece of guidance states the importance of teaching and learning in such a way that reflects principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion while also providing opportunities to students to make progress in their education. By emphasizing the need and value of conversations regarding areas like race, gender, sexuality, students are able to critically think about current issues while also being exposed to new ideas and cultures. The guidance encourages schools to create opportunities for students to learn from different perspectives rather than relying on a “single story” about a topic.

The guidance pertains to “curricula in all content areas; books and instructional materials; pedagogical practices and professional development; classroom grouping policies and practices; and student support systems for all developmental pathways,” according to the state

The second part of the guidance focuses on addressing punitive student disciplinary policies and practices that are ill-advised or executed disproportionately. The guidance notes that students of color are disproportionately disciplined and reminds schools that disciplining students differently stands in violation of federal laws that require policies to be designed in a non-discriminatory way. Furthermore, it encourages schools to minimize suspensions of  students in order to keep them in the classroom setting.

The third guideline reminds schools to ensure effective policies and procedures to prevent and address bullying and harassment in schools. The guidance warns that it often targets these marginalized groups based on disability, race, gender, and sexuality. By including this point in the guidance, the NYSED is hoping to combat and decrease the pattern of behavior which consistently victimizes marginalized students. 

“We are urging every school district to reflect on local policies, strategies, and tactics and advance the principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion to ensure all students have the support necessary to be fully engaged,” Rosa said in a written statement. “Students cannot learn and develop socially and emotionally when they feel disconnected, intimidated, harassed, or discriminated against. We have a responsibility to remove the barriers that stand in the way of success for many students.”