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NYS Comptroller

THOMAS P. DiNAPOLI

Taxpayers' Guide to State and Local Audits

New York City Department of Education
Implementation of the Dignity for All Students Act


Issued: March 13, 2019
Link to full audit report 2017-N-6

Purpose
To determine whether the New York City Department of Education (DOE) is ensuring that Dignity for All Students Act (DASA) incidents are reported properly and investigated timely. Our audit scope covered the period from July 1, 2015 through June 28, 2018. We also analyzed 2014-15 school year data from the State Education Department (SED).

Background
DASA took effect on July 1, 2012 with the goal of providing public elementary and secondary school students in New York State with a safe and supportive environment free from discrimination, intimidation, taunting, harassment, and bullying on school property, school buses, or at school functions. DASA expanded the concepts of tolerance, respect for others, and dignity to include an awareness and sensitivity in the relations of people, including different races, weights, national origins, ethnic groups, religions, religious practices, mental or physical abilities, sexual orientations, gender identities, and sexes.

According to A-832 of DOE’s Regulations of the Chancellor (Chancellor’s Regulations), complaints of student-to-student discrimination, harassment, intimidation, and/or bullying must be entered into DOE’s Online Occurrence Reporting System (OORS) within 24 hours of the school principal or designee becoming aware of the incident. OORS is the system of record for all incidents in schools (e.g., disciplinary, building conditions, accidents) involving all parties within a school community (i.e., students, staff, parents). The school principal or designee is required to identify the appropriate infraction code from the DOE Discipline Code when entering an incident in OORS. Incidents determined to be material by DOE’s Office of Safety and Youth Development (OSYD) are submitted to SED annually in 12 bias categories, including an “other” category for incidents not covered by the other 11 categories. Section 100.2 of the Regulations of the Commissioner of Education (Commissioner’s Regulations) defines a material incident of harassment, bullying, and/ or discrimination as “a single verified incident or a series of related verified incidents where a student is subjected to harassment, bullying, and/or discrimination by a student and/or employee on school property or at a school function” (New York Codes, Rules and Regulations [NYCRR§100.2]).

Key Findings
We found that DOE could do more to fully comply with DASA. For example:

  • DOE does not proactively identify schools that may be at risk for underreporting and/or improperly reporting incidents. While making improvements related to OSYD’s process to categorize reported incidents, it relies on schools to comply with reporting requirements and report incidents accurately. However, the data reviewed suggests ongoing problems with the completeness and accuracy of reported data.
  • For instance, DOE is required to annually report material incidents of harassment, bullying, and discrimination to SED. For school years 2015-16 and 2016-17, DOE did not identify and report any material incidents to SED for 670 schools and 570 schools, respectively. Moreover, DOE did not report any material incidents for 387 of those schools in both school years. Additionally, 2017-N-6 Division of State Government Accountability 2 while there has been a slight decrease in the percentage of incidents reported as “other” from the 2015-16 and 2016-17 school years (from 58 percent to 56 percent), the percentage of incidents reported as “other” was still significantly higher than the 22 percent reported by schools in New York City for the 2013-14 school year.
  • School survey data also is not consistent with the data reported to SED. For instance, Hillcrest High School, with 3,354 students, did not report any material incidents to SED for the three school years ended June 30, 2017. However, when students were asked on the 2016-17 school year survey how often they were harassed, bullied, or intimidated by other students, 18 percent reported most or some of the time.
  • When we visited a sample of 25 schools, we found that incidents were not being entered consistently because school staff had differing views of when to report an incident. Moreover, while the Chancellor’s Regulations state that complaints of discrimination, harassment, intimidation, and/or bullying must be entered into OORS, school personnel’s understanding of when a complaint should be entered differed from the regulation requirement. For instance, one assistant principal stated that incidents were only entered if a physical fight took place, while another stated that an incident should only be reported if the action was repetitive.
  • The Discipline Code’s definition of bullying is not aligned with the definition in Section 100.2 of the Commissioner’s Regulations, which states that bullying may be either “a single verified incident or a series of related verified incidents.” However, the Discipline Code states that bullying is “a pattern of behavior usually repeated over time and can take many forms.” This understanding appears to be common in the schools we visited. For instance, the principal at one school defined bullying as a pattern, and stated that something would need to happen three times to constitute a pattern.
  • Incidents were also not reported and updated in a timely manner. According to the Chancellor’s Regulations, complaints of discrimination, harassment, intimidation, and/or bullying must be entered into OORS within 24 hours of the school principal or a designee becoming aware of the incident. DOE requires schools to update DASA-related incidents in OORS within ten days. However, we found that 140 (19 percent) of the 752 reported incidents over the three-year period examined were not submitted timely. Additionally, 12 of the 752 reported incidents were never updated in OORS, and 363 of the remaining 740 (49 percent) were not updated timely. While DOE made significant progress in improving the timeliness of updating incidents, we still found instances of significant delays.
  • While OSYD officials informed us that all OORS incidents for 2017-18 and beyond, regardless of code, are reviewed for potential DASA-related material incidents, the majority of their determinations are performed in the summer and finalized in the fall. This deprives DOE management of important information that could be used to manage its schools and New York City parents of a critical piece of information when deciding where to send their children to school.

Key Recommendations

  • Institute proactive measures to identify schools at risk of underreporting bullying incidents and/or incorrectly categorizing incidents as “other” and take corrective actions. Such measures could include analyzing incident data, considering student population as well as school survey results.
  • Periodically share information on material incidents with the public to provide a more currentpicture of the school environment.
  • Align the Discipline Code definition of bullying with the NYCRR§100.2 definition.

Other Related Audit/Report of Interest
State Education Department: Implementation of the Dignity for All Students Act (2016-S-28)


State Government Accountability Contact Information:
Audit Director: Kenrick Sifontes
Phone: (212) 417-5200; 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