STATE POLICY TRENDS
As of mid-2007, 30 states have enacted harassment, intimidation and bullying legislation, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).
State policies vary widely, although many incorporate one or more — and, in a few cases, all — of the following components: definition of bullying; statement prohibiting bullying; required or recommended bullying education, prevention and intervention strategies at the district and school levels; procedures for reporting and investigating incidents of bullying; responsibilities and rights of students, parents and school staff; and state-level assistance and support. Following are a few highlights of state anti-bullying policies enacted over the past several years.
Definition of bullying
State statutes either define “bullying” or include a requirement that school districts or the state board of education do so. As an example, Colorado’s law defines bullying as “any written or verbal expression, or physical act or gesture, or a pattern thereof, that is intended to cause distress upon one or more students in the school, on school grounds, in school vehicles, at a designated bus stop, or at school activities or sanctioned events.”
In a growing number of states, new forms and means of bullying are being taken into account. Recently enacted legislation in Iowa, South Carolina and Idaho, for example, prohibits harassment and intimidation via “electronic communication,” including e-mail, cell phones, pagers and the Internet. Utah, New Jersey and several other states have also recently taken steps to address cyberbullying.
School/district requirements and expectations
Roughly 20 states currently encourage (and, in some cases, require) school districts to establish bullying prevention policies and programs. In one state — Georgia — any district that does not adopt a policy prohibiting bullying is ineligible for state funding. In Arkansas, the state board of education must review every district’s anti-bullying policies and may recommend changes or improvements.
Several states require schools to integrate bullying education and prevention into the curriculum. In Virginia, for example, every school’s character education program “must address the inappropriateness of bullying.” Other states authorize or require schools to offer specific services to students, including behavioral training and intervention, peer mediation, mentoring, counseling and tutoring.
In New Jersey, school districts are required to “provide training on the district's harassment, intimidation or bullying policies to school employees and volunteers who have significant contact with students.” In addition, every district must “develop a process for discussing the district's harassment, intimidation or bullying policies with students.”
|Bully Police USA, an organization that tracks and analyzes state policy enactments, gives an “A” rating to anti-bullying legislation in the following states: Alaska, Arkansas, Delaware, Iowa, Idaho, Maine, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and West Virginia. To see how your state measures up, click here.
Another good source of information on state policy actions and trends is the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).
Vermont and Connecticut require all schools to collect, and make available to the public, information on the number of reported incidents of bullying and the number of incidents that have been verified. In Arkansas, school boards “must require that notice of what constitutes bullying, that bullying is prohibited and the consequences of engaging in bullying be conspicuously posted in every classroom, cafeteria, restroom, gymnasium, auditorium and school bus in the district.”
State-level assistance and support
A handful of states have taken steps to facilitate and enhance bullying prevention efforts at the district and school levels. In Rhode Island, West Virginia and New Jersey, for example, the state board or the department of education must develop a model policy to guide districts in designing and implementing their prevention strategies. The Connecticut Department of Education runs a competitive safe-learning grant program to help school districts meet various goals, including “eliminating bullying behaviors among students.” In Oklahoma, the state education department is mandated to disseminate “a list of research-based programs appropriate for the prevention of harassment, intimidation and bullying of students at school” to every public school in the state.
- Reporting requirements and procedures
- Allow students to anonymously report acts of bullying to teachers and school administrators
- Require teachers and other school staff who witness acts of bullying or receive student reports of bullying to notify school administrators
- Allow parents to file written reports of suspected bullying, and require that school administrators investigate any such reports
- Require that the parents of both bullied and bullying students be notified, informed of how school staff responded to the incident, and made aware of the consequences of further acts of bullying.
Several states have established requirements for reporting and investigating acts of bullying. In Connecticut, for example, school district policies must:
In New Jersey, every district must have a procedure for either the principal or the principal’s designee “to conduct a prompt investigation of violations and complaints related to the district’s anti-bullying policy.” The statute also specifies that school employees, students and others “may not engage in reprisal, retaliation or false accusation against a victim, witness or one with reliable information about an act of harassment, intimidation or bullying.”
New Hampshire requires that all parents whose children are involved in a bullying incident must be informed by the school principal within 48 hours, and “advised of their due-process rights including the right to appeal to the state board of education.”