NYS Human Rights Law Now Protects Students

NYS Human Rights Law Now Protects Students

Human rights laws in New York State have been expanded to protect public school students from bullying, discrimination, and harassment, effectively closing loopholes that prevented victims from taking action to address those problems.

Under S.4901/ A.3425, which was co-sponsored by out gay State Senator Brad Hoylman and signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo on July 25, public schools are now covered under human rights law and gives the state’s Division of Human Rights the power to probe repots of bullying, harassment, and discrimination in public schools.

The legislation addressed gaps in the Dignity for All Students Act (DASA) and a hurdle created by a 2012 State Court of Appeals ruling finding that the State Division of Human Rights could no longer address bullying, harassment, and discrimination in public schools after the division had oversight over those schools for nearly 30 years. When the 2012 ruling was handed down, the state had to dismiss 70 complaints against public schools. It is not clear whether those older cases could be re-opened.

DASA, passed in 2010 and implemented in 2012 — more than a decade after it was first introduced by out gay former State Senator Tom Duane in 1999 — offers legal protections against bullying, harassment, and discrimination. But the law has enforcement limitations and has largely been used on a broader level to create regulations in the State Education Department to provide local schools with guidance on these issues. It provided student victims of bullying and discrimination with no private right to pursue legal remedies.

“This law will finally restore the anti-discrimination protections afforded under the Human Rights Law to New York’s public schoolchildren,” Hoylman said in a written statement. “With LGBTQ New Yorkers and other vulnerable communities under attack by the Trump administration, it couldn’t come a moment too soon.”

After signing the bill, Cuomo stressed that every student “has the right to pursue an education free from bullying, harassment, and discrimination.”

“By signing this bill into law, we are building on New York’s legacy of equality and fairness and guaranteeing public school students get the protections they deserve,” he added.

The law is the latest in a series of new antidiscrimination measures impacting the LGBTQ community in New York this year after Democrats recaptured control of the State Senate. The Legislature passed the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, which added gender identity and expression as protected classes under the state’s human rights law, barred conversion therapy practiced on minors, and also banned the use of the gay and trans panic defense, which allowed alleged killers to argue that their own discriminatory stance toward a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity — and purported “panic” about encounters with gay and trans people — could be used in court to downgrade murder charges in court.