07/01/2012 10:42 am ET Updated 5 days ago

Starting Today, New York's Students Now Protected from Bullying

Almost every New York State Assembly Member who spoke had something in common to contribute to the debate over my 2010 anti-bullying bill, the Dignity for All Students Act (DASA): a memory of bullying from his or her own childhood. As a gay man, I have certainly had my share of harassment and discrimination. And, as I've worked on DASA, it has become even clearer to me that it is more difficult to find someone who has not experienced bullying than someone who has. With DASA's new protections in effect starting today, I look forward to seeing that begin to change.


For the past 18 months, the DASA Task Force, a group of bullying experts from a variety of fields, including education, social services and government, has been researching and developing the best strategies for preventing bullying. Overwhelmingly, research shows that "zero tolerance" and other criminalization efforts are largely ineffective (they may even contribute to the problem); education efforts that prize respect, tolerance, and difference are much more effective. With DASA now in effect, each school in New York will develop its own unique anti-bullying policy based on the state guidelines, and will foster a school culture that discourages discrimination and celebrates diversity.

The school-culture approach is increasingly necessary as technology enables students to interact 24 hours a day, and teachers and parents are unable to monitor their every action. When children who have learned that it is acceptable to be intolerant are left unsupervised, bullying flourishes. This is nothing new, as my colleagues and I well know, and as was recently brought to light in the case of our Republican presidential nominee. When Mitt Romney forcibly cut a fellow high school student's hair while a group of his friends held the boy down, he caused irreparable damage both to the boy he abused and to himself and his friends. Although Romney claims to barely remember the incident, it haunted many of the perpetrators and their target.

This is what happened when the boys were unsupervised in the Cranbrook dormitory. It's a good analogy, actually, for the technologically fueled bullying we see today. But we must not give in to the temptation to respond to bullying with punishment. This is unsustainable and ineffective; we must instead use insightful adult intervention to instill in our children a respect for all their peers, and a desire to learn from their differences, not erase them. In New York, DASA is now helping put all our public school children on the path to learn these essential lessons. It is time for New York's schools to produce not just good students, but good citizens.