The Role of State and Local Policies in Bullying Prevention

State laws and policies around bullying prevention became a focus for the US Department of Education in early 2010. In its analysis of existing state anti-bullying policies, the US DOE examined aspects of the existing state laws. The department found that while the majority of states had passed anti-bullying legislation, inconsistencies remained, including the definition of bullying. This analysis also brought to light the omission in many laws of a mental health component, the identification of groups most targeted by bullying, and mandatory documentation of identified bullying behavior.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, in Preventing Bullying through Science, Policy, and Practice, examined the federal and state laws and policies around bullying. By 2015, every state in the US had passed anti-bullying legislation. At the federal level, no laws exist specifically focused on bullying; however, civil rights laws, anti-discrimination polices, and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) do provide protection for students from being bullied on the basis of gender, race, color, disability, religion, and national origin.

Additionally, the NAS reviewed the research on the impact of state prevention laws and the implementation of these laws. While progress has been made, especially with regard to a national focus on bullying, the impact and the implementation remain inconsistent and inadequate.

The following are some of the findings of the panel:

  1. Federal laws do provide protection for vulnerable groups that can support state anti-bullying laws; however, the protection is limited to those groups specifically identified.
  2. While all states have anti-bullying legislation, there remain inconsistencies in the way that bullying is defined and in the authority states have to respond to bullying behavior.
  3. No evidence exists to support zero-tolerance policies as a means to ensure school safety; in fact, these rigid policies have potential to make schools less safe.
  4. Additional research is needed in environments beyond the school, including residential programs and juvenile justice facilities.
We need to dig deeper into those places where bullying prevention is working, where students are safer, and vulnerable groups are being protected. In this way we might understand the interaction between the place, the policy, the program, and the people.

"Schools should be a safe place for students to be and to study, rather than be worried about being bullied or injured.” ~Kaz Sato (Cincinnati Chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League)

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