Dignity Act reduces bullying to a ludicrous matter

Makenzie Drukker, Staff Writer

This month, students sat through presentations in their social studies classes about the Dignity for All Students Act.  This New York State legislation aims to put an end to bullying in schools by punishing students for “real or perceived” actions and threats based on race, religion, ethnicity, or sexual orientation.

“I think that the Dignity Act puts into writing what many of us already believe: that all students should be comfortable in their school at all times and that no students should be discriminated against for any reason,” said Principal Mr. Ira Perinck.

While some admire this legislation’s passage and herald it as the government finally taking definitive actions against bullying, it will ultimately be ineffective, and simply goes too far to work.

The law, which took effect on July 1, amends state education law and changes the rules for classroom instruction regarding tolerance and sensitivity.  It also requires school districts to change their codes of conduct to reflect the Dignity Act, so each student received a blue packet containing the updated code during the presentations in their classes.

Under the Dignity Act, a student can just as easily be punished for actual bullying as for misinterpreting a friend’s joke, overhearing a private conversation out of context, or merely looking at someone the wrong way.

Bullying has reached epidemic levels in American schools, and something needs to be done, but the Dignity Act is not the answer.  The fact of the matter is that the legislation goes so far while leaving such a large gray area that makes it likely to be challenged in court in the near future.  Prosecution for real bullying is entirely legitimate, and even necessary, but the provision for “perceived bulling” gives too much room for the law to be abused.  Bullying is a serious matter, but the extent to which the Dignity Act goes makes it almost laughable.

The spirit of the law is entirely in the right place.  It can be incredibly difficult for bullies to be prosecuted because, before the Dignity Act, most of the laws regarding bullying were harassment laws, which are notoriously difficult to prove in court.  Under the Dignity Act, schools are now responsible for collecting evidence of bullying, discrimination and harassment.  This is beneficial, because school officials are undoubtedly closer to students than police officers and prosecutors, and therefore legitimate bullying will be easier to bring to trial.  Still, school officials can just as easily prosecute students for pettier disputes, especially among younger students.

It is true that people should be more careful of what they say and do, but the Dignity Act goes too far.  Students should watch their step because teasing among friends can wrongfully be punished just as harshly as the worst bullying.