Schools in the Empire State have an obligation to promote diversity, equity and inclusion as they plan for the coming school year, according to New York Attorney General Letitia James and Betty Rosa, …
Schools in the Empire State have an obligation to promote diversity, equity and inclusion as they plan for the coming school year, according to New York Attorney General Letitia James and Betty Rosa, commissioner of the New York State Education Department (NYSED).
The guidance affects educational planning and decision-making.
As states and school districts across the country adopt exclusionary educational policies that deny students from diverse backgrounds and identities access to a safe and affirming learning environment, James and Rosa are providing resources to school leaders to assist in fulfilling their commitment to ensuring every student in New York has the opportunity to learn free from the fear of discrimination, harassment or intimidation.
The joint guidance issued in August offers recommendations for upholding the principles of diversity, equity and inclusion in three key areas of the school experience: learning and teaching, student discipline and in addressing bullying and harassment.
The guidance also warns against actions that could contribute to a hostile environment for students of diverse backgrounds and identities. Those actions include banning books—and the guidance provides schools with resources to help create and foster environments that protect every student’s right to access equal education.
State and federal human rights laws prohibit discrimination in educational institutions on the basis of race, national origin, disability, sex, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and age, among other protected classes.
In addition, New York’s Dignity for All Students Act, which took effect in 2012 and was updated in 2021, requires that public schools create an educational environment where students are free to learn without fear of discrimination, harassment or intimidation.
In 2021, the Board of Regents adopted a policy urging districts to develop and implement policies and practices advancing diversity, equity and inclusion.
In the guidance, James and Rosa identify three core principles that public schools and local education agencies can implement to honor their obligations to their students under the law:
First, ensure that teaching and learning reflect the principles of diversity, equity and inclusion.
All students should be provided with the opportunity to learn from multiple perspectives, and curricula should be up to date, accurate and reflect the truth of the struggles diverse groups in this country have endured.
Schools cannot ban curricular materials such as textbooks that accurately portray and critically analyze topics related to protected classes such as race, national origin, gender identity and expression, and sexual orientation.
Second, schools should address disproportionately punitive student disciplinary policies and practices.
Discipline policies and practices should be designed and implemented in a non-discriminatory way to ensure that all students have equal educational opportunities.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, student discipline disproportionately involves students of color, particularly Black students, and students with disabilities—likely attributable to implicit systemic biases.
Schools should expand efforts to train personnel on developmentally appropriate, restorative alternatives to punitive punishment to foster a safe and positive school environment so every student can learn.
Third, establish effective policies and procedures to prevent and respond to bullying and harassment.
The law requires schools and local education agencies to take a proactive approach to protect students from bullying and harassment. Schools should enact policies and procedures to create a school environment free from harassment, bullying and discrimination and implement training and counseling that discourage the development of hostile environments.
The guidance also warns schools and local education agencies against actions that could violate the law, including but not limited to banning books; prohibiting discussions of slavery, disability or the LGBTQ+ community; preventing students from joining extracurricular activities or using specific facilities because they may not conform to gender stereotypes; barring a non-binary student from a single-gender extracurricular program; and forbidding natural hair or hairstyles most closely associated with Black people.
A school’s climate is one of the most critical predictive factors of its capacity to provide every student with an equal opportunity to learn and succeed, and the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) and NYSED are committed to ensuring that students’ rights are protected at school. New Yorkers with information regarding misconduct such as discrimination or harassment in and out of the classroom are encouraged to contact OAG’s Civil Rights Bureau at www.ag.ny.gov/.
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