Education Week reports that the U.S. Department of Education (ED) has released a study on state anti-bullying laws finding that only 13 states give schools the ability to intervene when behavior off campus creates a hostile environment at school. The review finds that many states ban cyberbullying or bullying on electronic media, where the off-campus issue can really come into play.
The researchers said, “school jurisdiction over off-campus conduct is particularly relevant to issues of cyberbullying because students often commit acts of cyberbullying outside of the school setting using their own technology, rather than relying on school-owned or -leased computer systems.” Experts cited by the researchers argue that schools need to develop provisions for responding to any off-campus speech and behavior that results in “substantial disruption of the learning environment.”
The review also rated states, 46 of which have bullying laws. Of those, only Maryland and New Jersey have all of the key components the researchers were looking for. Those components include where the law applies, definitions of bullying, whether relational aggression is banned in addition to verbal and physical acts, if the law addresses cyberbullying, whether groups of students who are protected are listed, and if school districts are required to create bullying policies.
Some states that have bullying laws don’t spell out what kind of behavior is banned. Three, Michigan, Montana, and South Dakota, don’t have bullying laws, although the review found all three have pending legislation. Of the states that do have laws, 41 have model policies in place to guide school districts on creating their own bullying rules. The reviewers also examined 20 school district policies and found that most are farther reaching than the state laws that require the local rules. Most include statements prohibiting bullying behavior, statements of scope, definitions of prohibited behavior, and punishment for bullying behavior. However, districts rarely addressed the mental health of students who are bullied, something researchers thought was critical.
Source: Education Week, 12/6/11, By Sean Cavanagh
[Editor's Note: In ED's press release announcing the study, Analysis of State Bullying Laws and Policies, it says the report summarizes current approaches in the 46 states with anti-bullying laws and the 41 states that have created anti-bullying policies as models for schools. It notes that the report shows the prevalence of state efforts to combat bullying over the last several years. From 1999 to 2010, more than 120 bills were enacted by state legislatures across the country to either introduce or amend statutes that address bullying and related behaviors in schools. Twenty-one new bills were enacted in 2010 and eight additional bills were signed into law through April 30, 2011. Of the 46 states with anti-bullying laws in place, 36 have provisions that prohibit cyber bullying and 13 grant schools the authority to address off-campus behavior that creates a hostile school environment.
In the executive summary of the Analysis of State Bullying Laws and Policies report, ED explains that the report addressed four questions:
(1) To what extent do states’ bullying laws cover U.S. Department of Education-identified key legislative and policy components?
(2) To what extent do states’ model bullying policies cover U.S. Department of Education-identified key legislative and policy components?
(3) To what extent do school districts’ bullying policies cover U.S. Department of Education-identified school district policy subcomponents? and
(4) How are state laws translated into practice at the school level?
Although the Education Week article identified Michigan as one of the states that does not yet have an anti-bullying law, Michigan's status changed when Gov. Rick Synder signed into law a bill that requires districts to enact a policy but does not proscribe specific behavior, as reported by Paul Egan of the Detroit Free Press on December 6, 2011. Amendments to require policies to enumerate protected categories (e.g. gender, sexual orientation etc.), to extend anti-bullying measures to cyberspace, and to provide an exception for sincerely-held religious beliefs were rejected.]