On July 25,  Governor Cuomo signed legislation that expands the scope of the New York State (NYS) Human Rights Law to include public schools. Under the new law, public school students now have the ability to file claims with the NYS Division of Human Rights if they believe they have experienced harassment and/or discrimination. This expansion of the law will require strict adherence to all anti-discrimination policies, as well as thorough and consistent application of Dignity for All Students Act responsibilities for all school districts within New York.

Previously, the anti-discriminatory protections within the NYS Human Rights Law only applied to private, non-sectarian schools in the educational context. In 2012, the New York State Court of Appeals determined that public schools were not covered under the “education institutions” definition. As a result of that decision, the Division of Human Rights lost its ability – dating back over three decades — to investigate claims of discrimination within the public schools.

These new amendments to NYS Executive Law §§ 292 and 296(4) aim to remedy a deficit in New York state’s comprehensive set of laws opposing discrimination in all contexts. The new law has also restored the NYS Division of Human Rights’ authority to investigate reports of bullying, harassment, and discrimination at all schools. Early indications reveal that the NYS Division of Human Rights is eager to investigate these claims, but it must be noted that NY Department of Education also has jurisdiction over DASA claims. It will be interesting to observe how the NYS Division of Human Rights chooses to investigate and pursue claims under the changed law.

Schools districts must be continually vigilant as these amendments have increased scrutiny toward any instances of harassment and/or discrimination. Careful consideration and diligence will be required in order to protect students and to decrease and avoid liability.

This alert does not purport to be a substitute for advice of counsel on specific matters.

Harris Beach has offices throughout New York State, including Albany, Buffalo, Ithaca, Melville, New York City, Rochester, Saratoga Springs, Syracuse, Uniondale and White Plains, as well as New Haven, Connecticut and Newark, New Jersey.