December 21, 2011

U.S. Department of Education Releases Analysis of State Bullying Laws and Policies

In the beginning of December, the US Department of Education (ED) released a report detailing their analysis ofstate and local anti-bullying laws. GLSEN applauds ED for taking this much needed step to support state and local anti-bullying lawsand policies. Building upon the critical elements the Department has identifiedas necessary to create comprehensive anti-bullying laws and policies, thereport has identified best practices in state laws, state model policies, anddistrict policies. We hope that states and districts will examine their ownanti-bullying laws and policies in light of this report and consider updatingtheir laws to create safer schools for all students. 

We areespecially encouraged that the report details the need for enumeration inanti-bullying laws and policies. Enumerated laws and policies provide specificprotection based on characteristics that are frequently the target of bullyingand harassment, such as race, disability, sex, sexual orientation, and genderidentity and expression. 

Research has continually demonstrated that enumeration is an essential element of laws needed to provide effective protection to vulnerable students, such as LGBT students. 

The report assesses that whileabout a third of state anti-bullying laws contain enumeration language, morethan 2/3 of state model policies are enumerated. This reflects the factthat state education associations recognize the need to enumerate anti-bullyingpolicies to provide protection for all students. 


The report also looks at other important components ofanti-bullying laws such as prohibition of bullying through electronic means otherwise known as cyberbullying. While 
36 states prohibit cyberbullying, 13 states specifically allow districts to prohibit off campus cyberbullyingactivity. 


Cyberbulling is a developing area of the law, and there are a lot ofquestions about how much authority and responsibility schools should have topunish this sort of behavior.


While thevast majority of states already have anti-bullying laws, the report shows that 3 states prohibit bullying without providing a suitable definition of theterm, and 10 states prohibit bullying but do not require any specificcomponents for district policies. 


Moreover, the majority of state laws do notprovide specific protection to vulnerable students, such as LGBT students. Thispatchwork of inconsistent protections for students demonstrates the need for afederal anti-bullying measure. GLSEN supports the Safe Schools Improvement Act(H.R. 1648/S. 506), a federal anti-bullying bill which would provide a clear,enumerated definition of bullying and require all districts to take steps toaddress these issues.


Do you know who the National Safe Schools Partnership is? See who else supports the Safe Schools Improvement Act. 


We areencouraged by the strong stance ED has taken onbullying, from issuing guidance to making clear that districts that ignorebullying and harassment may incur liability under federal civil rights laws.Similarly, we believe this report will serve as a useful tool to advocates,educators, lawmakers, and school districts as they develop safe schools lawsand policies that will protect all of our nation’s youth.

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