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DONOHUE PROMOTES NEW LAW FOR SAFE SCHOOLS

Schools have inherited the problem of society becoming more violent and now are forced to deal with it, Lt. Gov. Mary Donohue told about 75 school administrators Friday.

"It's not the schools' fault" the former teacher and chairwoman of the Governor's Task Force on School Violence said during a forum at Southside Elementary School on implementing a new state law designed to make schools "safe havens for learning."

The far-reaching Safe Schools Against Violence in Education Law that was approved in July imposes requirements on students and schools alike, but also gives the schools more means to combat violence.

Teachers will be allowed more freedom to remove disruptive students, and the law upgrades from misdemeanor to felony status any assault which takes place on school grounds.

A requirement that all new school employees be fingerprinted and undergo a police records check -- a process expected to take 25-30 days and cost the employee $74 -- drew the most questions from the administrators.

"I agree it's a burden," Donohue said. "But times have changed, and we need to do this." New York City already has such a requirement, she noted.

Most of the components of the new law go into effect Nov. 1, and school districts must be in full compliance by July 1, 2001.

Among the law's provisions:

Districts must adopt emergency response plans and procedures for dealing with threats of violence. Response plans will be confidential.

They must adopt codes of conduct outlining acceptable conduct, dress and language and spell out disciplinary actions to be taken in incidents involving weapons or violence.

Teachers have the right to remove disruptive students, and principals and superintendents have the right to suspend students for up to five days. Previously, boards of education had to give administrators the suspension power.

Instruction for all grades must include a component on civility, citizenship and character education.

Outline of requirements for teachers and administrators to report suspicions of child abuse that take place at school and prohibits "silent resignations" whereby school authorities allow a person to resign rather than disclose allegations of child abuse or bring disciplinary action.

Development of a statewide system for reporting school violence.

Courts are required to report convictions of students to a designated official of a school district. The information is confidential and does not become part of the student's permanent record.

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