The rising epidemic of bullying in public schools across the United States has caused state legislature to present much needed policies on bullying and laws against these actions. Anti-bullying legislation focuses on national and state jurisdiction directed at preventing and stopping bullying among students. In 1999, the first states began to legally define bullying and create policies to stop it. Prior to 1999, there were no statutes addressing school bullying specifically, so the charge of harassment was typically used in these incidents. Today, 46 out of 50 states have activated policies on bullying.
How Is Bullying Defined?
Researchers and law makers traditionally agree that bullying is defined as repetitive and aggressive behavior with a definite imbalance of power inflicting purposeful harm on a victim. Bullying takes on many forms, including verbal and physical actions that cause physical and emotional harm. Indirect acts of social aggression aimed at damaging personal relationships or public standing are also included.
Anti-bullying statutes generally focus on the specific behaviors of bullying, and they differ from state to state. These behaviors include intimidation, stalking, threats, teasing, physical violence, theft, and public humiliation. Cyber bullying has become a concern recently. It is defined as using Internet technology to harass a victim, and polices on bullying now also include cyber bullying.
Bullying characteristics are used to identify bullying behaviors at any age, including hazing with college students. The U.S. Department of Education studies show that bullying escalates from elementary to middle school and then declines in high school. Research shows that 61 percent of girls and 60 percent of boys were bullied before they entered high school, and 22 percent of girls and 33 percent of boys report being threatened with physical harm.
It is apparent that policies on bullying were needed years ago, but now, more than ever, this form of harassment has to be addressed. Research shows that 7 percent of students nationally are bullied every day. The reason that bullying declines when the student reaches high school is because they are able to resist bullying behaviors, so the bullying is quenched. All 46 states with bullying policies participate in developing policies that implement anti-bullying strategies.
The Columbine shootings in 1999 were the catalyst for present anti-bullying statutes. The state of Georgia was the first to enact bullying legislation; since then only four states have not instigated their own legislation. The rights and laws are enforced by the Department of Justice and the Department of Education, and all the statutes are not identical policies. The five documents below are used as the basis of bullying legislation in the U.S.
1. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973
2. Title IV and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
3. Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
4. Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972
5. Titles II and III of the Americans with Disabilities Act
Laws are constantly changing, but below are seven examples of state bullying policies that are now in place. For the most recent information contact the Board of Education or an attorney.
Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 15-341.37 Arizona requires every school district to develop policies and procedures for prohibiting bullying and enforcing that prohibition. However, the state leaves it up to individual school districts to define the specific actions that constitute bullying.
Washington, Rev. Code of Wash. § 28A.300.285 Washington defines bullying as any intentional electronic, written, verbal, or physical act that physically harms a student or damages the student’s property, interferes with the student’s education, creates an intimidating or threatening education environment, or substantially disrupts the orderly operation of the school.
Virginia, Virginia Code § 9.1-184 and 22.1-208.01 In Virginia, bullying is any aggressive or unwanted behavior that is intended to harm, intimidate, or humiliate the victim. Bullying must also involve a real or perceived imbalance of power between the bully and the victim, and it must either be repeated over time or cause severe emotional trauma. Virginia explicitly states that “ordinary teasing, horseplay, argument, or peer conflict” do not count as bullying.
New York, N.Y. Educ. Law § 13 Bullying in New York is defined as threats, intimidation, or abuse that unreasonably and substantially interferes with the victim’s educational performance, opportunities, or mental, physical, or emotional health. Bullying can apply even if it occurs off school property, so long as it would create a foreseeable risk that the bullying acts might reach school property
Connecticut, Ct. Gen. Stat. § 10-222d Bullying in Connecticut is defined as written, oral, or physical acts directed at another student within the same school district that cause physical or emotional harm or fear or create a hostile learning environment.
Illinois, 105 ILCS 5/10-20.14 and 105 ILCS 5/27-23.7 Illinois defines bullying as “any severe or pervasive” act that could cause fear or harm, a detrimental physical or mental health effect, or interference with the victim’s academic performance or extracurricular activities.
New Jersey, N.J. Stat. 18A:37-13 In New Jersey, bullying is defined as any gesture or any physical, verbal, or written act that is motivated by the actual or perceived traits of the victim. The bullying statute covers school functions, as well as activities off campus and on school buses.
As of April 2011, South Dakota, Hawaii, Montana, and Michigan were the remaining U.S. states that had not enacted legislation specifically targeting bullying. The focus on youth bullying is intensifying, and violent behaviors are increasingly leading to high-profile incidents of escalated violence with bullying identified as the underlying cause.
At present, there are no federal laws that directly address bullying. The behavior is typically charged a discriminatory harassment, which is covered and enforced by the Department of Justice and the Department of Education. Regardless of the label used, bullying, hazing, or teasing, every school district is obligated to provide safety, protection, and education for their students.