Governor David A. Paterson has submitted to the Legislature Program Bill No. 291 that would ensure that effective strategies are in place to address discrimination in schools by making clear that schools are subject to the Human Rights Laws.
The bill also would address discrimination and bullying in schools by requiring school officials to post school violence hotline information in their hallways. Posting this information would allow more school children access to important State assistance and services.
“We have a responsibility to provide the highest level of protection and care to the children of New York State, and this legislation would help do just that,” Governor Paterson said. “At a time when our children are bullied to the point of contemplating suicide, it is clear that school officials must be vigilant in their efforts to prevent these incidents and protect their students. Providing greater access to vital information and assistance for our school children and parents will go a long way and work toward preventing school violence all together.”
This bill reaffirms that bullying or discrimination complaints may continue to be filed with the Division of Human Rights. It would also ensure that effective strategies are in place to address discrimination in schools by making it clear that schools are subject to the Human Rights Laws. The Division of Human Rights is well equipped to serve this expanded role as it as it has accepted and investigated complaints against public educational institutions alleging discrimination in education for over twenty years.
Ross Levi, Executive Director of the Empire State Pride Agenda, said: “The Pride Agenda applauds the Governor’s efforts to protect students from discrimination. This measure would create an important foundation on which to build to ensure that no student is discriminated against or harassed solely because of who they are.”
Ron Meier, New York Regional Director of the Anti-Defamation League, said. “It is critically important for the law in New York State to protect public school students from discrimination. Governor Paterson’s bill would remove any doubt caused by ambiguity in the current law, and ensure that New York’s Division of Human Rights is an available forum for those public schools students that feel they suffered from discrimination. This proposal is clearly in the public’s best interest, and we urge the State legislature to move quickly toward its adoption.”
For twenty years, the Division of Human Rights has applied the Human Rights Law to schools. Recently, in East Meadow Union Free School District v. N.Y.S. Division of Human Rights, the Appellate Division, Second Department, held that Executive Law § 296(4) does not provide the Division with jurisdiction over public school districts. The Human Rights Law’s purpose of ensuring every individual in the State an adequate education cannot be achieved without holding these public institutions accountable for discrimination. Consistent with the broad principles and purposes of the State’s Human Rights Law, this bill would specifically overturn the East Meadow Union Free School District decision by unambiguously providing that access to public schools without unlawful discrimination is protected under the education provisions of the Human Rights Law. This clarification of the definition of covered entities will ensure that the education provisions of the Human Rights Law fulfill the originally intended purpose of the law.
Additionally, the Governor’s Program Bill would help guarantee that those subjected to bullying who feel that school officials are unwilling or unable to prevent such behavior, or are uncomfortable reporting bulling to officials, will be able to obtain the necessary information from a hotline to seek assistance from the State. The State Education Department already maintains this hotline through which students and parents can seek assistance from the New York Center for School Safety. This legislation would require that the hotline number be publicly posted in every school in New York to ensure students and parents have access to this important assistance.
To contact the New York State Safety Anonymous Reporting Hot Line please call: 1-877-7SAVENY (1-877-772-8369).