The Menands Union Free School District Board of Education is committed to providing an educational and working environment that promotes respect, dignity and equality. The Board recognizes that discrimination, including harassment, bullying, cyberbullying, and hazing, are detrimental to student learning and achievement. These behaviors disrupt the operation of the school and interfere with the mission of the district to educate its students. Such behavior affects not only the students who are its targets but also those individuals who participate in or witness such acts.
To this end, the Board condemns and strictly prohibits all forms of discrimination of students by other students or by school employees, including harassment, hazing and bullying on school grounds, school buses, and at all school-sponsored activities, programs and events. Discrimination, harassment, hazing or bullying that takes place at locations outside of school grounds, such as cyberbullying, which creates or can be reasonably expected to create a material and substantial interference with the requirements of appropriate discipline in the operation of the school or impinge on the rights of other students, is prohibited and may be subject to disciplinary consequences.
Harassment has been defined in various ways in federal and state law and regulation. The Board recognizes that these definitions are important standards, but the Board’s goal is to prevent misbehavior from escalating in order to promote a positive school environment and to limit liability. The Dignity for All Students Act (§§ 10-18 of Education Law) defines harassment as the creation of a hostile environment by conduct or by threats, intimidation or abuse, including cyberbullying, that (a) has or would have the effect of unreasonably and substantially interfering with a student’s educational performance, opportunities or benefits, or mental, emotional or physical well-being; (b) reasonably causes or would reasonably be expected to cause a student to fear for his or her physical safety; (c) reasonably causes or would reasonably be expected to cause physical injury or emotional harm to a student; or (d) occurs off school property and creates or would foreseeably create a risk of substantial disruption within the school environment, where it is foreseeable that the conduct, threats, intimidation or abuse might reach school property. ·
The harassing behavior may be based on any characteristic, including but not limited to a person’s actual or perceived:
- national origin
- ethnic group
- religious practice
- sexual orientation
- gender (including gender identity and expression).
First Reading: April 4, 2013
Revised: April 11, 2013
Second Reading: April 25, 2013
Adopted: May 13, 2013
For the purpose of this definition the term “threats, intimidation or abuse” shall include verbal and nonverbal actions.
Bullying is defined as unwanted, aggressive behavior that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. Bullying is further understood to be a hostile activity which harms or induces fear through the threat of further aggression and/or creates terror. Bullying may be premeditated or a sudden activity. It may be subtle or easy to identify, done by one person or a group. Under the amended Dignity for All Students Act, bullying and harassment are equivalent and used interchangeably. Bullying often includes the following characteristics:
- Power imbalance – occurs when a bully uses his/her physical or social power over a target.
- Intent to harm – the bully seeks to inflict physical or emotional harm and/or takes pleasure in this activity.
- Repetition and threat of further aggression – bullying behaviors generally happen more than once or have the potential to happen more than once. The bully and the target believe the bullying will continue.
There are at least three kinds of bullying: verbal, physical and social/relational.
- Verbal bullying (which can be delivered orally, electronically or in writing) includes name calling, insulting remarks, verbal teasing, frightening phone calls, violent threats, extortion, taunting, gossip, spreading rumors, racist slurs, etc), anonymous notes, etc.
- Physical bullying includes poking, slapping, hitting, tripping or causing a fall, choking, kicking, punching, biting, pinching, scratching, spitting, twisting arms or legs, damaging clothes and personal property, or threatening gestures.
- Social or relational bullying includes excluding someone from a group, isolating, shunning, spreading rumors or gossiping, arranging public humiliation, undermining relationships, teasing about clothing, looks, giving dirty looks, aggressive stares, etc.
Cyberbullying is defined as harassment or bullying through any form of electronic communication .
Discrimination is the act of denying rights, benefits, justice , equitable treatment or access to facilities available to all others, to an individual or group of people because of the group, class or category to which that person belongs. Discrimination is the denial of rights based upon a student’s actual or perceived:
- national origin
- ethnic group
- religious practice
- sexual orientation
- • gender (including gender identity and expression)
Hazing is an induction, initiation or membership process involving harassment which produces public humiliation, physical or emotional discomfort, bodily injury or public ridicule or creates a situation where public humiliation, physical or emotional discomfort , bodily injury or public ridicule is likely to occur.
In some instances, discrimination , bullying or harassment may constitute a violation of an individual’s civil rights. The district is mindful of its responsibilities under the law and in accordance with district policy regarding civil rights protections.
The school setting provides an opportunity to teach children, and emphasize among staff, that cooperation with and respect for others is a key district value. A program geared to prevention is designed to not only decrease incidents of bullying but to help students build more supportive relationships with one another by integrating the bullying prevention program into classroom instruction. Staff members and students will be sensitized, through district-wide professional development and instruction, to the warning signs of bullying, as well as to their responsibility to become actively involved in the prevention of bullying before overt acts occur.
Curricular material that raises awareness and sensitivity to discrimination or harassment and civility in the relationships of people of different races, weights, national origins, ethnic groups, religions, religious practices, mental or physical abilities, sexual orientations, sexes or gender expression or identities will be included in the K-8 instructional program.
The Board will designate at its annual organizational meeting a Dignity Act Coordinator(s) for the school district. The role of the Dignity Act Coordinator(s) is to work with the Superintendent to oversee and enforce this policy. In addition, the Superintendent will establish a Bullying Prevention Committee. The Dignity Act Coordinator(s) and the Bullying Prevention Committee will assist the administration in developing, implementing, and monitoring programs and educational initiatives related to the prevention of discrimination, harassment, and bullying.
Intervention by adults and bystanders is an important step in preventing escalation and resolving issues at the earliest stages. Intervention will emphasize education, skill-building, and prevention of further occurrence. Staff members are expected to intervene even in early stages of behavior that is potentially harassment or bullying.
Intervention may involve remediation. Remedial responses to bullying or harassment include measures designed to correct the problem behavior, prevent another occurrence of the behavior, and support and protect the target of the behavior. Remediation may be targeted to the specific individual(s) involved in the bullying behavior or school-wide approaches which are targeted to the school as a whole. In accordance with the Code of Conduct, intervention will typically involve assigning disciplinary consequences to the perpetrator of harassment or bullying.
In addition, intervention will focus upon the safety of the target. When becoming aware of incidents of discrimination , harassment, bullying, or hazing, staff members are responsible for intervening in accordance with this policy, reporting the occurrence, and referring the student to designated resources for assistance.
Provisions for Students who do not feel Safe at School
The Board acknowledges that, notwithstanding actions taken by district staff, intervention may require a specific coordinated approach if a student does not feel safe at school. Students who do not feel safe at school are limited in their capacity to learn and reach their academic potential. The administration and the Dignity Act Coordinator(s), when aware of bullying, should determine if accommodations are needed in order to help ensure the safety of a student. The administration, the Dignity Act Coordinator(s), and other appropriate staff will work with the student and the student’s parent/guardian to define and implement reasonable accommodations.
The district recognizes that there is a need to balance accommodations which enhance student safety against the potential to further stigmatize the targeted student. Therefore, each case will be handled individually. The student, parent/guardian, and school administration will collaborate to establish reasonable safety provisions that meet the needs of the targeted student. Follow-up monitoring and/or meetings will be scheduled , as needed, to ensure that safety concerns have been adequately addressed and to determine when and if accommodations need to be changed or discontinued.
Incident Reporting and Investigation
Although it can be difficult to step forward, the district cannot effectively address discrimination, harassment, bullying, or hazing if incidents are not reported. Students who have been subjected to discrimination, harassment, bullying, or hazing, parents/guardians whose children have been subjected to such behavior, or other students who observe such behavior are encouraged and expected to make a verbal and/or written complaint.
Staff members who observe or learn of an incident of discrimination, harassment, bullying, or hazing are required, in accordance with State law, to report the incident to an administrator. If a staff person is unsure of the nature of the incident or the reporting procedure, he/she is expected to inquire about how to proceed by speaking with an administrator or the Dignity Act Coordinator. A district employee may be deemed to have permitted unlawful discrimination or harassment if he/she fails to report an observed incident, whether or not the target complains.
At all times, complaints will be documented, tracked, and handled in accordance with this policy and the district’s Code of Conduct. An equitable and thorough investigation will be carried out by the administration. In addition, the results of the investigation shall be reported back to both the target and the accused and their parents/guardians. If either of the parties disagrees with the results of the investigation, they can appeal the findings.
Verified and material incidents of discrimination and harassment/bullying that meet the criteria established by the state will be reported in the annual Report of Incidents Concerning School Safety and the Educational Climate to the NYS Education Department (Part 1- VADIR; Part 2 – Dignity Act).
Investigating and Responding to Allegations of Staff-to-Student Discrimination and Harassment
In the case of a report of alleged staff-to-student discrimination, harassment, or bullying, reporting, investigation, and response must follow district policies and due process obligations related to staff-to-student misconduct.
It is district policy to respect the privacy of all parties and witnesses to discrimination, harassment, and bullying. To the extent possible, the district will not release the details of a complaint or the identity of the complainant or the individual(s) against whom the complaint is filed to any third parties who do not need to know such information. However, because an individual’s desire for confidentiality must be balanced with the district’s legal obligation to provide due process to the accused, to conduct a prompt and thorough investigation, and/or to take necessary action to resolve the complaint, the district retains the right to disclose the identity of parties and witnesses to complaints in appropriate circumstances to individuals with a need to know. The administrator or Dignity Act Coordinator responsible for investigating complaints will discuss confidentiality standards and concerns with all complainants.
If a complainant requests that his/her name not be revealed to the individual(s) against whom a complaint is filed, the administrator or Dignity Act Coordinator responsible for conducting the investigation shall inform the complainant that:
- the request may limit the district’s ability to respond to his/her complaint;
- district policy and federal law prohibit retaliation against complainants and witnesses;
- the district will attempt to prevent any retaliation ; and
- the district will take strong responsive action if retaliation occurs.
If the complainant still requests confidentiality after being given the notice above, the administrator or Dignity Act Coordinator will take all reasonable steps to investigate and respond to the complaint consistent with the request as long as doing so does not preclude the district from responding effectively to the discrimination, harassment, or bullying.
All complainants and those who participate in the investigation of a complaint in conformity with state law and district policies , who have acted reasonably and in good faith, have the right to be free from retaliation of any kind.
While the focus of this policy is on prevention , acts of harassment and bullying may still occur. In these cases, offenders will be given the clear message that their actions are wrong and the behavior must improve. Student offenders will receive in-school guidance in making positive choices in their relationships with others. Disciplinary action that is measured, balanced and age-appropriate will be taken by the administration in accordance with the district’s Code of Conduct, as applicable. If the behavior rises to the level of criminal activity, law enforcement will be contacted .
A student who violates this policy will be subject to appropriate action, which may include disciplinary action. Appropriate action may include, but is not limited to:
- Corrective instruction
- Service learning experience
- Behavioral assessment or evaluation
- Behavioral management plan
- Suspension from school
- Parent conferences
- Superintendent ‘s hearing and possible long term suspension from school
This policy is meant to promote progressive discipline and intervention, as opposed to a “zero tolerance” approach. Responses to students‘ violations of the policy shall be age-appropriate and include both consequences and appropriate remedial approaches. Consequences for a student who commits an act of bullying shall be unique to the individual incident and will vary in method and severity according to the nature of the behavior, the developmental age of the student, and the student‘s history of problem behaviors, and must be consistent with the district’s Code of Conduct.
The Board recognizes that in order to implement an effective bullying prevention and intervention program, professional development is needed. The administration and the Dignity Act Coordinator(s) will incorporate training for all staff members as needed to support this policy. The purposes of this training will be as follows :
- To raise awareness and sensitivity to potential acts of discrimination and harassment directed at students by students and/or school employees on school property or at school functions; including, but not limited to, discrimination or harassment based on a person‘s actual or perceived race, color, weight, national origin, ethnic group, religion, religious practice, disability, sexual orientation , gender, gender identity, or gender expression.
- To enable employees to prevent and respond to incidents of discrimination or harassment.
- To inform employees of their responsibility to respond to incidents of discrimination or harassment.
Dissemination, Monitoring and Review
The district Code of Conduct, which outlines the prohibition of harassment and bullying, will be posted on the district website. A plain language version of the Code of Conduct will be disseminated to parents and guardians and explained to students on an annual basis. Additionally, the prohibition of harassment and/or bullying and the need to report instances of such behavior will be explained to students through classroom and school-wide prevention programs each year. Similarly, the prohibition of harassment and bullying, the need to report instances of such behavior, and school-wide efforts to prevent and respond to harassment and bullying will be explained to parents and guardians at open house and other parent meetings and through district newsletters and other publications.
Ref: Dignity for All Students Act, Education Law, Chapter 482 Laws of 201 0 and Chapter 102 Laws of 2012)
NYSSBA Sample Policy – Student Harassment and Bullying Prevention and Intervention 2012
The State Education Department Sample Local Policy Guideline for the Dignity for All Students Act