How are school districts legally responsible for bullying?
- In an interview with Tina Hegner, manager of research and development at PublicSchoolWORKS, eSchool News explores the basic legal responsibilities of school districts regarding bullying and cyberbullying.
- Though state laws, which vary, are responsible for determining the specifics of how school districts should address incidents of bullying and cyberbullying, school districts are required by federal law to submit bullying data to the U.S. Department of Education to include in Civil Rights Data Collection surveys; furthermore, federally funded districts are required to address incidents related to a student’s race, color, national origin, sex, disability or religion which may qualify as harassment under federal civil rights laws.
- School districts can work with state education agencies and those who specialize in bullying and cyberbullying prevention programs to ensure that school district policies are up-to-date and in compliance as school districts are ultimately responsible for keeping students safe. However, to do this, students and parents need to be encouraged to report incidents of bullying on and off the school campus.
The month of October has been designated as National Bullying Prevention Month. During a recent survey, roughly one-third of students reported that they had experienced bullying during the 2017-18 school year. Bullying has long been an issue in schools, but the growth of social media has added cyberbullying to the mix, increasing the ways students can harm one another. While bullying can result in direct physical injury, it also can result in emotional distress.
School districts have legal obligations to protect students from bullying and to address the issue when it occurs. In the past, some teachers and administrators might have considered it a normal part of childhood or even a rite of passage. However, state laws now require that schools address these issues. Though the laws vary from state to state, certain key components remain constant, including the fact that these incidents must be investigated and properly reported. They also must be reported to the federal government for Civil Rights Data Collection School Climate and Safety reports.
Aside from the legal obligations, schools have a vested interest in decreasing bullying because it interferes with the educational process. Bullying affects school attendance and school performance. Schools can work to address bullying through efforts to improve school climate and through social-emotional learning. Anti-bullying programs can also have a positive effect. Students must feel safe and empowered to report incidents of bullying if any campaign is to be effective. By creating a learning space that is physically and emotionally safe for students, schools promote an environment that is more conducive to learning.
- eSchool News Laying down the law on bullying and cyberbullying