Study Finds Only 13 State Laws Address Off-Campus Bullying

By Nirvi Shah — December 06, 2011 2 min read
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Just 13 states give schools the ability to intervene when behavior off campus creates a hostile environment at school, a new review of state bullying laws by the federal Department of Education.

Dealing with off-campus issues that end up surfacing at school has been a challenge for schools, although they have been warned by the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights that if they don’t act in cases of suspected bullying, they could be violating students’ civil rights. A letter last year says “a school is responsible for addressing harassment incidents about which it knows or reasonably should have known.”

The review finds that many states do 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 the need for schools 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, and found of those, only Maryland and New Jersey have all of the key components 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.

“Every state should have effective bullying prevention efforts in place to protect children inside and outside of school,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan said. “This report reveals that while most states have enacted legislation around this important issue, a great deal of work remains to ensure adults are doing everything possible to keep our kids safe.”

The reviewers also examined 20 school district policies and found that most are farther reaching than the state laws that required the local rules. Most include statements prohibiting bullying behavior, statements of scope, definitions of prohibited behavior, and punishment for bullying behavior.

But districts rarely addressed the mental health of students who are bullied, something researchers thought was critical. When bullying and its effects go unaddressed, the long-term effects can include depression and suicide.

A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.