The New York State assembly approved a measure Monday aimed at combating bias-based bullying, discrimination, and violence in the state's public schools. Known as the Dignity for All Students Act, the assembly overwhelmingly passed the bill on a 138-8 vote. Proponents of the bill now shift their attention to the state senate, where a similar version, known as the Schools as Safe Harbors Act, was voted on and passed last year with little opposition. They argue there is still time for the two chambers to agree upon a single version by the end of the legislative session, which is next week.
The bill--and similar measures in other states and localities--was designed to combat bias-related acts of violence taking place in the nation's schools. Lesbian and gay students as well as those perceived to be lesbian or gay are among the victims of severe and widespread discrimination and harassment, reports the New York-based gay rights group Empire State Pride Agenda, which pushed the measure. As reported by the Massachusetts Governor's Commission on Gay and Lesbian Youth, 97% of high school students report hearing homophobic remarks on a regular basis. In two thirds of all cases, no teacher or administrator intervened. And, most alarmingly, of all these incidents of discrimination and harassment, youth reported that one third came not from other students but from teachers and staff. "Schools need to be safe, harassment-free zones where kids can learn and reach their full potential," said Alan Van Capelle, executive director of the Pride Agenda. "With this vote, the assembly has reaffirmed its strong support for safe schools."
Nine states and the District of Columbia have passed laws that provide similar protections for students. These include Connecticut, Wisconsin, California, Massachusetts, and Washington. The most recent state to take action was New Jersey; its bill was signed into law last September.