Bullying Legislation

Bullying has become a nationwide problem and public health issue. Because of this, the majority of states are starting to take action by passing laws and amending current laws in order to help control and restrain bullying. However, there are currently no federal laws that directly address bullying.[1] Bullying can overlap with the federal civil rights laws about harassment if the bullying is based on race, national origin, color, sex, age, disability, or religion. These anti-harassment laws include the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title IX of the Education Amendments, the Rehabilitation Act, Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Even though these federal laws help prevent some harassment between students, not all students are covered.

The history of the States’ history of bullying legislation really took off after the 1999 school shooting at Columbine.[2] The Columbine shooting committed by Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris was thought to have happened because the two were bullied. “From 1990 to 2012 state legislatures nationally enacted more than 120 separate bills (about bullying). As of 2012, there are only two states (Montana and South Dakota) that do not have anti-bullying legislation. Even though most states have bullying legislation, as of 2012, ten states still do not have a definition of bullying and only 35 states have enacted legislation in their education or criminal codes about cyber bullying.[3]

Should legislation include everyone or should it have enumerated classes? Seventeen states include language of enumerated classes and protected groups. [4] Enumeration of specific characteristics “refers to the language in bullying legislation that conveys explicit legal protections for certain groups or classes of individuals.”[5] Having enumerated classes in bullying legislation can be very helpful to help limit the legal definition of bullying or to communicate that discrimination against certain groups is no accepted in that state, district, or school. All seventeen states that include enumeration list race as a protect class; sixteen list disability, religious practices, and sex or gender; fourteen list national origin and sexual orientation; twelve states list ethnicity and gender identity or expression; five include age, association with groups or other individuals, marital status, and socioeconomic status; four states list family status and physical appearance; and two states list academic status and obesity and weight.

Some states define bullying “as behavior that is motivated by the perceived or actual characteristics of the victim” but do not give restrictions on the types of characteristics. Other states discourage or prohibit school districts “from defining bullying in terms of the characteristics of targeted students.”[6] The states that prohibit enumeration of characteristics want to prevent school districts from adopting policies that would protect specific classes of students because of “a commitment to providing equal protections for all students.”[7] Even some states that have enumerated classes add to their policy a requirement that all students have the same protection “regardless of their status under the law.”[8]

Arizona: A Case Study

In Arizona, A.R.S 15-341(A)(37) focuses its efforts on addressing bullying and what school boards and districts should focus its efforts on.[9] Specifically, the statute states: “The governing board shall Prescribe and enforce policies and procedures to prohibit pupils from harassing, intimidating and bullying other pupils on school grounds, on school property, on school buses, at school bus stops, at school-sponsored events and activities and through the use of electronic technology or electronic communication on school computers, networks, forums and mailing lists that include the following components…”[10]

The components that need to be included in the policies and procedures put forth by the governing board include confidential reporting systems for instances of harassment, intimidation, or bullying; required reporting for school district employees and disciplinary procedures for those who fail to report known incidents; notice of rights and protections to students every year; notice or rights and protections for victims, confidential documentation systems that keeps documents for at least 6 years; formal investigatory process and notice to the victim; disciplinary procedures for offenders; procedures and consequences for false reports of bullying, harassment, or intimidation; procedures that protect physically harmed students; and the definitions of harassment, intimidation, and bullying.

There are no enumerated groups that are specified in the statute or training, prevention, monitoring, or legal remedies. Much of the burden is placed on the school board to create the specific rules. Even though there is a major outline and base for school boards, there are no statewide specifics or definitions. This could be a problem because there is no cohesion between the school districts. The fact that school boards have the ability to tailor it to their specific school districts could also be a positive.

A current prospective bill that is currently attempting to be pushed through legislation is SB 1462.[11] This bill provides a specific definition of bullying that includes cyber bullying, makes it broad to cover many types of bullying and harassment, and allows more acts to be considered bullying. It also makes bullying polices and procedures a specific and separate statute under the education section of Arizona Revised Statutes apart from the school board’s general powers and duties.

This bill is getting a lot of push back from conservatives and anti-LGBT groups. It has been proposed previously but voted against. Lobbying groups that are Christian and family values are pushing back against this bill because these groups believe that it is part of a “gay-friendly agenda”[12] even the bill never references sexual orientation as an enumerated group. Those that are attempting to pass this bill want to protect LGBT youth but their main goal is to protect all youth from the terror of bullying.

[1] http://www.stopbullying.gov/laws/federal/index.html

[2] http://www2.ed.gov/rschstat/eval/bullying/state-bullying-laws/state-bullying-laws.pdf


[4] http://www2.ed.gov/rschstat/eval/bullying/state-bullying-laws/state-bullying-laws.pdf (27)

[5] Id.

[6] Id. At 28

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] ARS 15-341(A)(37)

[10] ARS 15-341


[12] http://azstarnet.com/news/local/govt-and-politics/lawmakers-kill-school-bullying-bill/article_8f89c027-f4d3-54d7-b783-ba305f95b921.html

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