School safety continues to be a key topic for legislators, which includes legislation around anti-bullying policies. Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school-aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. This behavior is either repeated or can be repeated. Bullying is categorized in three ways: social, physical, and verbal. Research shows that this type of adolescent victimization occurs frequently and can result in serious consequences for both the bully and the victim. According to the CDC’s 2019 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS) report, 25 percent of students nationally reported experiencing bullying. As awareness for harassment, intimidation, and bullying in schools grows, more state legislatures have addressed this problem through legislation.
In the age of technology and online platforms, traditional schoolyard bullying has expanded. Cyberbullying is bullying that takes place over digital devices like cell phones, computers, and tablets. It also varies from bullying that occurs at school because it can happen at any time, anonymously, and be difficult to trace. Cyberbullying can occur in many spaces, such as social media platforms, text messages, and online gaming communities. The 2017 School Crime Supplement to the National Crime Victimization Survey shows that among students ages 12-18 who reported experiencing bullied at school during the school year, 15% were bullied online or by text.
The Legislative Response to Bullying
While state policies can vary, most states have legislation that address the common components used to address bullying. Several states across the nation have introduced legislation aimed at reducing bullying in schools.
While legislation began to address bullying, a common theme was legislation defining bullying. For example, in North Dakota, cyberbullying was defined and added to the definitions and prohibitions of bullying in the existing policy. Virginia defines bullying as any aggressive and unwanted behavior that is intended to harm, intimidate, or humiliate the victim; involves a real or perceived power imbalance between the aggressor or aggressors and victim; and is repeated over time or causes severe emotional trauma.
Additionally, there is an influx of bills around reporting and immunity-related to bullying. Maryland requires that acts of bullying must be reported to the alleged victim’s parents within three business days and the alleged perpetrator within five business days. If an employee reports an incident of bullying and follows the school policy in New Jersey, they are immune from a cause of action for damages arising from any failure to remedy the reported incident.
Legislation around student and parental rights are also commonly found. In Nevada, the school administration must give priority to the victim of bullying when reporting bullying to ensure the safety of the victim. School districts in California are required to approve intradistrict transfers of a victim of an act of bullying. School boards in Virginia must have policies in place to ensure parents the right to review any audio-visual materials that contain graphic sexual or violent content used in any anti-bullying or suicide prevention program.
Many states have outlined the allocation of funds to anti-bullying measures. Alabama established funds for the bullying prevention project, which the DOE shall distribute as grants to applying districts. In Michigan, appropriations were made to aid in the support of public schools and if they receive these funds, they may be used to provide anti-bullying or crisis intervention programs.
School faculty professional development was seen throughout the states. Oklahoma aims to address the professional development needs of faculty and staff to recognize and implement methods to decrease student bullying. In Missouri, beginning in the 2017-18 school year, any licensed educator is required to annually complete up to two hours of training or professional development in youth suicide awareness and prevention as part of the professional development hours required for State Board of Education certification.
Other themes including state-level support, anti-bullying task forces, school intervention strategies, and student support strategies are also included below in the legislation snapshot.
Bullying and Cyberbullying Policy Areas
The following examples provide a snapshot of legislative trends and is not exhaustive.