NY Schools Must Remain Safe Havens -- Attorney General and Education Commissioner

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Attorney General Schneiderman

Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman and State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia sent a letter to school districts with guidance on how to ensure schools are safe havens from all forms of discrimination.

Students must be free to learn without fear of discrimination, harassment or intimidation directed toward students and employees as a result of their race, ethnicity, religion, immigration status, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or any other basis, the officials reiterated.

“We will not allow hateful rhetoric and acts of discrimination to follow students into the classroom, which must remain a place for our children to learn and grow in a positive and safe environment,” said Schneiderman. “I encourage all schools and educators to consider how they can foster constructive dialogue among students in order to combat hate and create a culture of understanding and respect. As always, my office is ready and willing to serve as a resource for schools that need assistance implementing the guidelines of the Dignity for All Students Act, designed to protect students from bullying and intimidation in schools. Families across New York should know that we are ready to ensure that our children will not be subjected to prejudice or bigotry.”

“There is literally nothing more important than the safety of our children. As adults we are morally bound to ensure both their physical and emotional well-being,” Commissioner Elia said. “Students must feel safe in the classroom to be able to learn. As state and educational leaders, it is our responsibility to foster an open dialogue with students and employees about discrimination, harassment and intimidation and send a strong message that these types of behaviors will not be tolerated in our schools. I am so pleased that our state’s leadership – Governor Cuomo, Attorney General Schneiderman, Speaker Heastie and Majority Leader Flanagan – recognize the importance of supporting our schools as they address this difficult issue with our children. I encourage school leaders to host gatherings for students and employees to help prevent hate-based words and actions and to inform them of what to do if they witness or experience any such hateful acts.”

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie added: “One of our greatest responsibilities as a society is protecting our children from any challenges to their well-being. The recent increase in reports of harassment and intimidation in schools is extremely troubling, but we will remain vigilant in our efforts to ensure that New York is a safe home for all our citizens. As we have done before, we will work together to raise awareness and support our educators in their mission to provide safe havens where students can learn in inclusive environments and celebrate their diversity without fear or intimidation. The Assembly Majority is grateful to Commissioner Elia and Attorney General Schneiderman for their leadership in moving this issue forward. I would especially like to commend my colleague, Assembly member Danny O’Donnell, for his tireless efforts in championing the Dignity for All Students Act, which will now be our guide in achieving this important mission.”

“There is no question that recent incidents have raised concerns for our children and threaten the inclusivity and equality that we have all worked so hard to achieve for them,” said Assemblymember Cathy Nolan. “It is absolutely critical that students feel safe and supported during their time at school. Thanks to the leadership of Assembly member Danny O’Donnell and his commitment to protecting our children with the Dignity for All Students Act, we have a strong foundation from which to step up our efforts. I commend Commissioner Mary Ellen Elia, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, Speaker Heastie and the Board of Regents for their swift attention and response to these troubling events.”

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