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Anti-Bullying Legislation in the United States: Children & Cyberbullying

Both state and local lawmakers have taken action to protect children and prevent bullying. Many states have enacted laws in state education codes, among other places as well as created model policies, which provide guidance to school districts. Bullying, cyberbullying , and other such behaviors may be addressed in a single law, or through multiple pieces of legislation. In certain cases, bullying appears in the section of a state criminal code that applies to juveniles.

What does bullying look like?

In this context, the US government defines bullying as “unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time.” Those who are involved in bullying, whether directly or indirectly, may have serious, long-lasting problems. Bullying can include actions such as making threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone physically or verbally, and excluding someone from a group on purpose.

There are three recognized types of bullying:

  1. Verbal bullying
  2. Social bullying (also referred to as relational bullying, which damages an individual’s reputation or relationships)
  3. Physical bullying (doing harm to a person’s body or possessions)

According to the 2011 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System, 20 percent of students nationwide in grades 9 to 12 have experienced bullying. The 2008-2009 School Crime Supplement also indicated that nationwide, 28 percent of students in grades 6 to twelve have experienced bullying.

Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying is bullying that occurs via electronic technology. Such technology includes devices such as mobile phones, computers and tablets, as well as communications tools like social media sites, text messages, chat and websites.

Children who are victims of cyberbullying are often bullied in person. Children who are being cyberbullied often have a more difficult time getting away from the behavior. This is because cyberbullying can take place 24/7, affecting a child even when he/she is alone. Such messages and images can be posted anonymously and distributed quickly to a large audience, making it difficult or even impossible to trace the source. Furthermore, deleting inappropriate or harassing messages, texts and pictures is extremely difficult after they have been posted or sent out.

According to the 2008-2009 School Crime Supplement, 6 percent of students in grades 6 to 12 have experienced cyberbullying. The 2011 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey reported that 16 percent of high school students were electronically bullied in 2010.

State Legislation Only

To date, there is no federal law that specifically applies to bullying. In certain cases, when bullying is based on race, color, national origin, sex, disability or religion, bullying overlaps with harassment and schools are legally obligated to address it. Although the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 provides federal support to promote school safety, it does not specifically address bullying and harassment in schools.

Since 1999, 49 states have passed school anti-bullying legislation. The only state lacking such legislation is Montana.

In 1999, Georgia was the first state to enact a school anti-bullying legislation, which was strengthened in 2010 by the passage of Senate Bill 205. This bill included a provision allowing for those accused of bullying another student to be reassigned to a different school, in order to separate the offender from the victim.

In September 2011, New Jersey began enforcing what is considered the most stringent anti-bullying law in the country. The NJ Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act requires each school to report each case of bullying to the state. The state will then grade each school based on bullying standards, policies and incidents.

What does an anti-bullying policy look like?

Watchdog organizations and anti-bullying advocates have identified eleven important components of effective anti-bullying policies. These components are listed below:

  1. Purpose statement
  2. Statement of scope
  3. Specification of prohibited conduct
  4. Enumeration of specific characteristics
  5. Development and implementation of local educational agency (LEA) policies
  6. Components of LEA policies:
    • Definitions
    • Report bullying
    • Investigating and responding to bullying
    • Written records
    • Sanctions
    • Referrals
    • Review of local policies
    • Communication plan
    • Training and preventive education
    • Transparency and monitoring
    • Statement of rights to other legal recourse

Summary

Unfortunately, bullying and cyberbullying is a serious issue that affects a significant number of school-aged children. To date, no federal anti-bullying law exists, though 49 states have enacted anti-bullying laws protecting children from bullying.

CIPP Exam Preparation

In preparation for the Certified Information Privacy Professional/United States (CIPP/US) exam,  a privacy professional should be comfortable with topics related to this post, including:

  • Anti-bullying laws (V.F.)
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