Students have always been expected not to bully, cheat or mistreat each other in the . But with the recent on July 1, the district is working hard to embrace the new law at the same time it enhances its academic integrity policy and honor code.
“We are fortunate in Blind Brook we have a community that values education and supports personal accountability, values hard work and wants each and every one of the children in our district to succeed,” said Patricia Lambert, the . Lambert explained that the passage of the Dignity Act requires the district to “step up and make sure everyone in the community understands subtle changes we are required to do.”
The changes will hold students more accountable for their actions academically, emotionally and socially, and will include training and programs on discrimination, bullying, academic integrity and honor for staff and students. The district will also emphasize the importance of parental support for these school initiatives.
The Dignity for All Students Act (DASA) is a statewide initiative targeting harassment, bullying, cyber-bullying and discrimination in schools.
The Dignity Act is designed to “ensure that all students, regardless of their race, religion, sex, disability, color, weight, national origin, ethnic group, religion, religious practice, sexual orientation and gender (which includes a person's actual or perceived sex, as well as gender identity and expression) or other personal characteristic, remain free of harassment, discrimination and bullying that would otherwise undermine their ability to learn,” according to the Southern Westchester BOCES website.
BOCES Coordinator of School Safety Isabel Burk who serves as a state representative for DASA, spoke at Blind Brook’s roundtable. She emphasized that the Dignity Act aims to give students the same civil rights as adults and to protect them from discrimination based on things like weight, height and actual or perceived sexual orientation. For the last five years, discrimination based on sexual orientation has become the largest problem and a cause of increased teen suicides, Burk said.
“For past 20 years, students have been saying ‘it’s so gay’ and they didn’t mean it as a compliment,” Burk said. DASA aims to help districts tell students, parents, staff, bullies and the bullied know that the school and society believes that is inappropriate and that students will be protected, Burk explained.
“It is an attempt to keep kids safe and to create a cocoon (for them), so school is as safe as it can be,” Burk said.
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Blind Brook’s Director of Guidance Mary Mediate elaborated on an updated code of conduct and academic integrity, which is a culmination of three years of work. The district formed a Committee on Academic Integrity in 2009 after it was concerned with the results of an integrity survey taken by staff and students, Mediate said.
The updated version of the code includes more definitive protocols and requirements such as a pledge of honor, Mediate said. Students would be required to sign a pledge of honor stating their work is their own before every test and assignment. The pledge would be worded according to grade level so that younger students would understand the language.
The pledge idea drew questions from school board member Jeffrey Diamond who said that asking students to take a pledge before “every test, quiz, homework assignment seems like a lot.”
School Superintendent William J. Stark said that students need to understand that integrity comes from within not just with the act of signing something.
After some discussion on the honor code, Dignity Act and academic integrity school superintendent Stark emphasized that, “This is a school, not a court room.”
“There is no attempt on part of administration to act as attorneys or to treat children, or students, as adults in a criminal justice system,” Stark said. “The emphasis here is as it is a school it is a learning experience, you learn academics in the classroom and you also learn social and emotional things as well.”
“There is lots of talk to show we are tightening things up, and in some sense we are, but we don’t want to give impression that we are moving towards some kind of police state. That is not what the goal ever was.”
Diamond said he was glad to hear that and agreed. The panel also said they agreed with Stark and said the changes are based on DASA, the academic integrity survey and in areas where they feel things need to be strengthened.
School board member Daniel Savitt asked if parents would be involved with the academic integrity policy. All parents have already received the policy and have been asked to sign it, Mediate said.
Rye Brook resident Dick Hubert commended the board on their efforts.
“Blind brook should be an example of the new integrity this county needs to ensure integrity of business and academic work and to show that people who play by the rules get ahead by the rules,” Hubert said.
What do you think of the academic integrity policy? Please share your thoughts in the comments.