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Sewanhaka School Board Grapples with New Student Harassment Act

Board of education rewriting policies as new guidelines issued late by state.

Like every school district across New York State, the Sewanhaka Central High School District is coming to terms with the new regulations regarding behavior considered to be harassment and bullying in its buildings. And like every school district, it too has to react when the state issues new guidelines regarding their administration, even if those happened to be issued at the last minute.

“Normally this time of year in accordance with the requirements of the commissioner’s regulations we do an annual review of certain policies that are required to be reviewed annually,” attorney Douglas Libby said during the June 26 meeting of the board at . “Most times we don’t have changes in those, but those that were listed... because of the legislation – several pieces of legislation – rather extensive changes.”

The district had already passed a series of regulations in compliance with the Dignity for All Students Act (DASA) last fall, a full 9 months early, “but as the year has gone on, for example the commissioner put new regulations before the board of Regents which we’ve been waiting and waiting for and they passed in May,” Libby said.

Another subset of regulations was put before the board of Regents on June 18 and it was unknown if those were approved.

“We’ve assumed they’ve been approved but the draft of the policy we have, we took the draft regulations the way they were to work them in,” Libby said.

The board of Regents also came out with a new set of guidelines released on June 25, the day before the board meeting.

Libby explained the guidelines the district used to form their DASA guidelines were based on those used by the state school boards association and “, everything that we’ve done related to it, it’s a big mess; a lot of stuff coming very late onto the scene and us having to react within days to make adjustments and modify it.”

The district had to come back with a revised policy on harassment and bullying because the state school board’s association had also substantially rewritten the one that was originally adopted last October and after review, it was decided by the school district to simply rewrite the policy. The rewrite was presented before the board on June 26.

The board had put the DASA-compliant policy up for review and upon their return at the July 11 meeting would be seeking to approve the changes made since the June 26 meeting.

“There are some pieces we’re still looking at such as how we’re going to control record keeping on the district level,” Libby said. “The recording requirements, that was part of the regulation that we don’t know what happened last Monday. The state has said that they modified the existing system they have... and they’re going to now include things that are covered by the Dignity for All Students Act.”

The changes to the student code of conduct consist largely of new categories added by the DASA act that prohibit discrimination such as weight and add several new categories which had not previously existed in any form in either state or federal law.

A new concussion act also goes into effect on July 1 and it was noted that on the day of the board meeting the state education department released new guidelines on concussion management.

“We don’t find a corresponding document on the state health department’s website so we’re hoping that these folks actually talk to each other and this is the official guideline for the state,” Libby said, noting that the district wrote their draft after consulting with doctors at Children’s Hospital and modifying it according to the law and what they believed the policy entailed “and then this comes out today.”

Another policy on student transportation was also up for review to keep the district up to date with a change in the law which occurred last year regarding .

“It’s not really the same as an airline but it’s along kind of the same concept,” Libby said. “In enables school districts across the state to take into consideration actual ridership as opposed to who signed up for the bus and it presents opportunities for savings.”

It was recommend that an amendment to the policy would be sufficient to bring the district into compliance.

“Like everything else the state seems to do lately with education, it’s a terrific idea,” board vice-president David Fowler said. “It’s a terrific idea to have the Dignity for All Students Act but in the end, there’s no funding for it, we’re required to do it and we have to find the money within the tax cap structure which is difficult. It’s never-ending and that to me is the sad part of it, that we have some wonderful ideas and good things that cost a great deal of money and I fear what is happening in education and budgeting these days is going to take away from core programs.”

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