Assemblyman Daniel O’Donnell, a Manhattan Democrat and sponsor of the Dignity for All Students Act, wants to change the way teachers are trained to detect bullying and harassment and improve the quality of HIV/AIDS education in high schools.
In a letter to Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, O’Donnell laid out two changes that he says should be implemented. The first is to improve the current six hour course on harassment, bullying, discrimination intervention and prevention required by all teachers.
“They’re doing an OK job at intervening during the bullying, but a disgusting job at creating a school culture that prevents bullying and harassment in the first place,” O’Donnell said during an interview with The Legislative Gazette.
In his letter dated September 7, O’Donnell cited an alarming statistic; LGBTQ students are at a higher risk for bullying, harassment and other forms of violence than their heterosexual peers. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, LGBTQ youth in grades 7-12 are more than twice as likely to commit suicide.
O’Donnell said better training will help teachers become more sensitized to the ever-increasing diverse population within “school culture.” The current six-hour course is a pre-service education requirement for applicants of administrative, supervisory, teaching and other school services who apply for a certificate or license. The course requires applicants to have at least three hours of face-to-face instruction of course work or training in harassment, bullying and discrimination prevention and intervention.
The change that O’Donnell calls for is a full semester course as the pre-service requirement. During this semester-long course, future teachers will be educated in the social patterns of harassment, bullying and discrimination in an appropriate context of multicultural education. The goal is to establish a “work force” with diverse sensitivity.
In his letter to Elia, O’Donnell wrote that “New York can build that work force through changing pre-service education for future teachers and school leaders to require a full semester course in LGBT inclusive multicultural education that allows adequate in-depth instruction and time to reflection one’s own biases.”
During his interview with the Gazette, O’Donnell said “A diverse population requires more education on being sensitized in school culture.”
The letter also states that The Queer Education Research Institute found educators have a “weakness” in their knowledge of LGBTQ issues. O’Donnell mentions that research also suggests LGBTQ issues are the ones in which “educators feel least competent, and one of the areas that educator bias remains high.”
The second recommendation is to update the current curriculum for teaching HIV and AIDS education in the schools, which he says is “outdated and medically inaccurate.”
O’Donnell recently reviewed a spring 2016 report by the Guttmacher Institute that indicates New York state does not require medically accurate information in the education of HIV and AIDS in public schools.
“A key component to HIV Education is medical relevancy,” O’Donnell said. New York state also does not specifically require HIV and sex education to be unbiased, culturally appropriate or without religious influence.
According to O’Donnell, the current education that is taught in New York state schools about HIV and AIDS dates back to 1988.
This puts New York among 36 other states that do not require medically accurate information about the nature of HIV, only the prevention of the disease. As of right now Calif., Colo., Hawaii, Ill., Iowa, Maine, Mich., N.J., N.C., Ore., R.I., Utah and Wash. are only states that require medical relevancy in the education of HIV.
O’Donnell writes that the information on HIV and AIDS education should contain “medically accurate information about the nature of the disease.” This would require an amendment made to the current HIV and Aids education requirement, which mainly stresses abstinence as the best prevention for HIV as well as accurate information only about the prevention. Currently there is no requirement for any information about HIV and AIDS themselves to be medically accurate.
His letter prompted a response from Elia, and O’Donnell is optimistic that these revisions will be made without the need for additional legislation.
Meanwhile the State Education Department has created new guidelines aimed at reducing the number of violent incidents in schools through new reporting requirements and a greater emphasis on stopping violent offenses in schools.