One surprising item on Mayor Bloomberg’s list of fulfilled campaign promises was his commitment to lobby the state to pass an anti-bullying law that he has declined to enforce at the city level.
The City Council passed the Dignity for All Students Act in 2004, saying that the city needed to do more to protect students, especially gay students and members of certain religious groups, from harassment. Bloomberg immediately vetoed the act, and then after the council overturned his veto he refused to implement the law.
At the same time, the city says, Bloomberg was lobbying the State Senate and Assembly to pass essentially the same law. “The City continues to support this legislation and submitted a memo in support of both the Assembly and Senate versions of the bill,” the campaign scorecard says. It gave the lobbying plans an asterisked “done,” meaning that the promise is close to accomplished. (DASA came close to passing this year, but so far it hasn’t.)
The discrepancy is rooted in the city Department of Education’s nebulous legal position as neither a city nor a state agency, a position that got attention but no resolution in the school governance debate this year. The mayor has as a rule declined to follow school rules that the City Council has passed, such as a ban on the cell phone ban.
“We did not oppose the substance of the City Council law,” said schools department spokesman Will Havemann about DASA. “Rather, we held that the State legislature was the appropriate body to pass the legislation, and so we supported the State’s bill. The City Council is preempted by State law on disciplinary and pedagogical matters.”
The city did make efforts to address bullying in the schools, last year launching a new anti-bullying policy called Respect for All. But the new policy did not make anti-bias training mandatory for all teachers, as DASA did, angering advocates.
Those advocates say Bloomberg’s refusal to follow DASA sends a message that he doesn’t support more stringent measures to curb bullying and harassment. “It speaks volumes when the mayor is telling the state legislature what they should do but has refused to implement the Dignity for All Students Act in New York City,” said Udi Ofer, the policy director at the New York Civil Liberties Union, which has been leading the push to get DASA implemented. “There’s a huge, huge hole between what both state DASA and city DASA say and what the city has done.”