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NYS Comptroller

THOMAS P. DiNAPOLI

Taxpayers' Guide to State and Local Audits

State Education Department
Implementation of the Dignity for All Students Act


Issued: October 13, 2017
Link to full audit report 2016-S-28

Purpose
We evaluated the steps the State Education Department (Department) has taken to ensure that: school district policies and practices comply with the Dignity for All Students Act (DASA); and school districts report material incidents of discrimination and harassment, as required, to the Department. We also evaluated whether the Department issued timely DASA guidance to school districts that adequately addresses transgender and gender nonconforming students. The audit covered the period July 1, 2012 through April 4, 2017. Also, we limited the audit to school districts outside of New York City.

Background
DASA seeks to provide students in New York with a safe and supportive environment free from discrimination, harassment, and bullying on school property, on school buses, and at school functions. Its initial provisions, which took effect July 1, 2012, included curriculum and annual reporting requirements and required schools to designate a trained Dignity Act Coordinator (DAC). An amendment effective July 1, 2013 defined cyberbullying and added requirements for investigating and reporting alleged incidents. The Department provides guidance to assist school districts in complying with DASA requirements, and makes school incident data available to the public on its website. For the school year ended June 30, 2016, school districts (excluding New York City) reported 19,410 incidents statewide under DASA. Also, the Department recently revamped its regulations to change the way schools report incidents. The new regulations take effect July 1, 2017.

Key Findings

  • The Department issued adequate DASA guidance to schools in a timely manner. However, while most schools we visited had implemented key requirements, such as designating DACs, many had not implemented some critical requirements, such as ensuring that DAC contact information is widely accessible. Some schools also did not provide DASA training to noninstructional personnel.
  • The Department’s guidance addressing transgender and gender nonconforming students has been both timely and adequate. However, certain schools may not be accurately reporting some DASA incidents or may not be reporting them at all. In addition, several schools were not able to identify which DASA incidents they reported to the Department, and incident records often were not adequate to clearly demonstrate whether or not the incidents were reportable.
  • Officials at most schools we visited were not aware of DASA record retention requirements, and some officials indicated that they purge DASA records sooner than DASA allows.

Key Recommendations

  • Develop a risk assessment that incorporates known and suspected weaknesses in DASA implementation, and commit sufficient resources to promote school compliance with DASA requirements.
  • Work with training partners, such as the Center for School Safety, to enhance DASA training to better meet user needs. Efforts should include (but not be limited to): identifying resources to facilitate proper electronic record keeping and reporting; and ensuring that training content includes the details that need to be documented in incident investigation records as well as examples that clearly distinguish reportable from non-reportable incidents.
  • Remind school and district officials of DASA record retention requirements and address areas of confusion that compromise compliance with these requirements.

Other Related Audits/Reports of Interest

State Education Department: Compliance With the Safe Schools Against Violence in Education Act – Follow-Up (2016-F-2)
State Education Department: Compliance With the Safe Schools Against Violence in Education Act (2013-S-71)
Division of Criminal Justice Services: Hate Crime Reporting (2013-S-67)


State Government Accountability Contact Information:
Audit Director: Steve Goss
Phone: (518) 474-3271; Email: StateGovernmentAccountability@osc.state.ny.us
Address: Office of the State Comptroller; Division of State Government Accountability; 110 State Street, 11th Floor; Albany, NY 12236