Legal View: Researching anti-bullying initiatives

By Marie Calvaruso
The Daily Record Newswire

It’s difficult to avoid media coverage of recent incidents of bullying and cyberbullying of students in the United States. Bullying, once thought to be a rite of passage of youth, is now considered a widespread, serious problem that can damage students, interfere with the learning process, and prevent schools from providing a safe environment for students.

A 2007 National Crime Victimization Survey supplement found that 32 percent of students aged 12 to 18 reported being bullied at school during the school year. The prevalence of bullying and recent incidents has been a wake up call to parents, educators, communities, and federal and local governments.

The following is an overview of recent anti-bullying initiatives that are good places to begin researching bullying and its legal implications.

The federal government has several initiatives addressing bullying and its effects on students and communities. In August, the Federal National Bullying Summit brought together government and nongovernment agencies, corporations, researchers and youth with the goal to create a strategy to reduce and end bullying so all students feel safe, respected and able to thrive in school.

Other initiatives include:
Bullyinginfo.org was launched by the U.S. Department of Education earlier this year. The site focuses on bullying prevention and response for students, parents, educators, healthcare providers and researchers. Resources include programs and strategies for dealing with bullying effectively, research highlighting the extent of the problem and links to federal data. In addition, the site includes articles, videos and other tools the federal government has created to address and help prevent bullying in communities.

In October, the U.S. Department of Education released guidelines for educators on how to address bullying and possible civil rights violations. The department issued “Dear Colleague Letter: Harassment and Bullying (DLC)” to explain the relationship between bullying and discriminatory harassment.

The guidance clarifies how student bullying that falls under an anti-bullying policy may also be subject to anti-discrimination laws enforced by the Department’s Office for Civil Rights. These laws include the prohibition of discrimination on the basis of race, color or national origin under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; the prohibition of discrimination on the basis of sex under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972; and the prohibition of discrimination on the basis of disability under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.

The DCL also addresses a school’s obligations under these anti-discrimination statutes and provides resources for additional information, (www2.ed.gov).

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ “Stop Bullying Now!” campaign hosts websites for children and adults. The website geared for adults (www.stopbullyingnow. hrsa.gov/adults) contains information about bullying awareness, prevention and intervention for parents, educators, healthcare providers, and researchers. The site provides resources about bullying and cyberbullying, children who are bullied, and children who bully.

Links to major studies, research reports and webcasts on bullying are included. A useful feature of the site is a map highlighting state laws on bullying and suggestions for locating specific state laws.

At the state level, New York recently enacted anti-bullying legislation. The Dignity for All Students Act intends to provide students with a safe and nurturing school environment and was signed into law by Gov. David A. Paterson in September. This statute prohibits discrimination and harassment of students based on, but not limited to, actual or perceived race, weight, national origin, ethnic group, religion, disability, sexual orientation, gender or sex.

This new Article 2 of the Education Law requires school districts to update codes of conduct and develop policies to create a safe school environment free from discrimination and harassment, adopt guidelines for training programs to assist employees to identify, understand and respond appropriately to these issues, and designate one staff member in each school to receive training in non-discriminatory instruction and human relations.

Under the new law, the Commissioner of Education is required to issue regulations and guidance to school districts on implementing the legislation. The law takes effect on July 1, 2012, (http://assembly.state.ny.us).

The New York State Education Department considers one incident of bullying to be too many and released “Guidance on Bullying and Cyberbullying” earlier this year. The guidance presents educators with policy, program and legal considerations that should be considered when dealing with bullying, cyberbullying and Internet safety issues.

Topics covered include school and district practice and policies, reporting and preventing incidents, additional resources, and funding availability. The guidance references state and federal statutes, regulations, agency decisions, and case law that should be reviewed, (www.p12.nysed.gov).

An easy way to begin research on state laws addressing bullying is Bully Police USA (www.bullypolice.org), a watchdog group monitoring state anti-bullying laws and advocating for bullied children. The site provides links to state laws and grades each state’s anti-bullying measures.

The grading system criteria include, but are not limited to, use of the word and definition of “bullying,” inclusion of cyberbullying, recommendations for model policies and what needs to be in a model policy, and protection against reprisal, retaliation or false accusation. The site provides articles, model policies, publications for sale, and links  to additional sites and organizations concerned with anti-bullying.

Marie Calvaruso has been the manager of Library Technical Services at Harris Beach PLLC for nine years. She is a past president of the Association of Law Libraries of Upstate New York and has served on the membership and retention committee of the American Association of Law Libraries.

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