Pelham school officials are working to ensure the district is compliance with the Dignity for All Students Act.
The Dignity for All Students Act, or DASA, is a state law that went into effect on July. The law protects students from being harassed or discriminated against on the basis of race, color, weight, national origin, ethnic group, religion, disability, sexual orientation or gender.
DASA only extends to school property and school functions and doesn’t address cyberbullying, but state lawmakers have approved a separate anti-cyberbullying law that goes into effect next year.
“In this legislation, it does not protect adults, there is no funding...and it’s supposed to be positive,” Rosemary Matthews, assistant superintendent for pupil personnel services, said during a presentation on DASA at Wednesday’s school board meeting. “When you hear all this, it has a negative connotation, it seems very punitive, but that’s really not the intent. The intent is for us to be proactive and to really have an environment where everyone feels included and safe.”
Matthews said the district is required to revise its code of conduct to better reflect the standards set forth in the new law, designate at least one staff member in each of school to be coordinator and adopt guidelines for training programs.
The district must do this despite the fact that the state education commissioner has yet to provide districts all of the funding and direction that was promised regarding DASA, according to Matthews.
The school board has already designated the school’s psychologist as DASA coordinators. It plans to adopt revised code of conduct policies during its Sept. 10 meeting, following public comments and a second reading of the policies.
Matthews said staff training will also have to take on a new direction.
“It’s the awareness and the sensitivity,” Matthews said. “That’s the new term that we really have to talk about—those little issues that happen every day that we have to point out to staff.”
Employees will also need to be trained to learn how to report, prevent and respond to incidents that they see.
Anybody who receives compensation from the school district or is employed by a service provider that is contracted by the district must be trained.
Matthews said staff training will begin next month.
Students will also need to be trained. Although students are already given character education, the new lesson will have to be given on awareness and sensitivity to harassment or discrimination.
Any policies pertaining to DASA must be explained and well publicized to parents and students, Matthews said.
“I think we can get it all done, but it's the time factor and when we get it done that’s really the issue,” Matthews said.