Making sure students treat one another with compassion and respect through education is nothing new for Valley Stream’s four school districts, but now, a statewide law requires all districts to end harassment in schools.
The Dignity for All Students Act was signed into law in 2010 and went into effect on July 1, 2012. The Dignity Act requires districts to adopt policies, training programs and guidelines to combat bullying that is based on a person’s actual or perceived race, color, religious practice, disability, sexual orientation or gender.
Each district has appointed its own dignity coordinator to ensure that the Dignity Act is being upheld and step in if any problems arise. In Valley Stream schools, each district already had its own bully prevention methods in place long before the Dignity Act went into effect.
Lisa Sells-Asch, assistant superintendent for special services at District 13, has taken on the role of dignity coordinator and said the subject of bully prevention is close to her heart. District 13 has always had a zero tolerance policy when it comes to bullying, she said.
Each of the district’s four elementary schools have their own Dignity Act teams comprised of the respective building principal, psychologists, social workers and physical education teachers. “We felt that having someone like a phys. ed. teacher who really has a good rapport with all the kids and knows every child in the building would be an important member of the teams,” Sells-Asch said.
A representative from Child Abuse Prevention Services trained District 13’s entire staff earlier in the school year after a committee of teachers came in over the summer to rewrite the code of conduct in child-friendly language and incorporate Dignity Act changes.
Sells-Asch said the district doesn’t want the idea of teaching tolerance and respect to students to last one day or during one presentation. “We want it to be present throughout our schools on a daily basis,” she said. “We want it to be embedded in each of our classrooms. We want it to be a sense of community and acceptance everyday.”