Saturday, August 9, 2008

New York: 12th Safe Schools State?

The New York State Senate may be poised to make the Empire State the 12th in the country to adopt a comprehensive anti-bullying law that specifically addresses sexual orientation and gender identity.

According to The New York Times, the bill has been introduced in Senate, though it's unclear whether it will be debated, and voted on, anytime soon.

From the Times' report:

Legislation aimed at banning bullying in public schools, including harassment based on sexual orientation, has been quietly introduced in the State Senate. The legislation, which includes language protecting transgender students and teachers, has been a priority of advocates for gay and lesbian rights but was ignored for nearly a decade in the Senate.

Republicans introduced the bill this week, but no sponsor was listed. . . .

Senate Republicans could bring it to the floor at another session later in the month, but it was not clear if they would do so. However, it would be unusual to go to the trouble of introducing a bill in the off-season without an intention to pass it. . . .

The legislation would require training to help teachers recognize and respond to bullying and require schools to keep track of bullying cases, including incidents in which students are harassed for their sexual orientation. Similar bills have been passed in the Democrat-controlled Assembly several times.

If you are a New York resident, click here to find your Senator and urge them to push for passage of the bill, and make New York the latest in a growing number of states that are taking strong stand in favor of safe schools.

1 comment:

Joann Prinzivalli said...

The Dignity for All Students Act (DASA), passed by the Assembly and sponsored in the Senate by Senator Thomas K. Duane, is a better bill, but Democrat-sponsored bills get no traction in the State Senate.

The Senate bill coming from the Rules committee means that the Republican leadership supports the bill.

The really good news is that this bill is the first Senate bill in New York with Republican sponsorship that includes "gender identity or expression" as a protected class.

The 2003 Senate "Schools as Safe Harbors" bill did not include gender identity/expression (GI&E) protection - and I am pleased that PFLAG, GLSEN and ESPA all stood firm at that time, and the Assembly stood firm on this aspect as well, when that bill was conferenced with Dignity for a compromise. At that time, the Senate Republicans were sadly not ready for GI&E.

Since a respected polling agency earlier in 2008 showed that 78% of New York voters statewide support legal protection of GI&E as a protected class, the Republican leadership seems to be signalling a willingness to be inclusive on this issue.

An analysis comparing the Safe Schools Bill with DASA indicates the bills are very similar - but there is one spot in which the Republican Senate bill is weak - and that is in the reporting requirement. Both bills provide that school employees aware of bullying/harrassment must report incidents, but the Republican bill provides protection from disciplinary action or professional misconduct for school employees who know of, but do not report, acts of bullying.

Despite this fundamental flaw, I would recommend passage of this "Safe Schools" bill in the Senate, with a hope that the Assembly can eliminate this particular weakness in a conference between the houses. Democrats in the Senate should highlight the weakness in floor debate, but should not let the flaw keep the bill from passage.

Joann Prinzivalli
State Director
New York Transgender Rights Organization (NYTRO)