Laying down the law on bullying and cyberbullying

This Q&A will get you up to speed on your district's legal responsibilities

October is National Bullying Prevention Month, so it’s a great time to promote anti-bullying activities. Although it’s well known that bullying is a widespread problem that can have serious implications on students’ academic and non-academic well-being, the anti-bullying and cyberbullying legislative mandates districts must follow are complex and can be hard to navigate. To get a better grip on a district’s bullying prevention responsibilities, eSchool News spoke with Tina Hegner, manager of research and development at PublicSchoolWORKS. In her role, Hegner researches and interprets state and federal legislation to help districts meet existing and new requirements.

Q: Who is responsible for making bullying legislation—the federal government or individual states?

A: There is not a federal law that specifically addresses bullying. However, if a bullying or cyberbullying incident concerns a student’s race, color, national origin, sex, disability, or religion, it may overlap with discriminatory harassment and federal civil rights laws such as Title II, Title VI, Title IX, or Section 504. In these cases, federally funded districts—so pretty much every public school district in the country—are legally obligated to address the incident.

Additionally, districts are required to submit a vast range of information, including enrollment, demographics, academic offerings, and bullying data to the U.S. Department of Education to include in its Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC) survey it conducts every other year. For the CRDC’s School Climate and Safety Issue Brief, they collect data on allegations of harassment or bullying on the basis of sex; race, color, or national origin; disability; sexual orientation; and religion. In addition, the CRDC includes data on students reported as harassed or bullied and students disciplined for harassment or bullying on the basis of sex, race, and disability. The most recent School Climate and Safety Issue Brief can be viewed here.

Since the federal government has not passed a national piece of bullying prevention legislation, each state is responsible for writing and enacting its own.

Q: How does legislation and requirements differ across state lines?

A: All states have bullying legislation in place, but this was not always the case; Montana was the last state to pass bullying legislation in April 2015. Just as legislation varies across state lines, so do requirements for school districts.

Some states have more stringent requirements. For example, New York’s Dignity for All Students Act (DASA) became effective in July 2012, and was amended in July 2013 to include cyberbullying. DASA’s principles are that no student shall be subject to harassment or bullying by employees or students on school property or at a school function; nor shall any student be subjected to discrimination based on a person’s actual or perceived race, color, weight, national origin, ethnic group, religion, religious practice, disability, sexual orientation, gender (including gender identity or expression), or sex. Under DASA, districts must have the following in place: harassment, bullying, and discrimination policies and procedures; reporting mechanisms; employee training; and a DASA coordinator who works with staff, students, and parents to address any issues. Most recently, a regulation proposed an amendment to include incidents such as denial of restroom or locker room access due to a person’s actual or perceived face, color, weight, national origin, sexual orientation, and more, as reportable offenses.

Ohio’s cyberbullying legislation, called the Jessica Logan Act, is also quite extensive. Logan committed suicide in 2008 after a nude picture of her was circulated at her high school, leading to bullying and intimidation by her peers. Passed in 2012, the law requires school districts to expand their existing student anti-bullying policies to cover incidents of harassment, intimidation, or bullying that occur on school buses and online. It also specifies that district’s anti-bullying policies must indicate that students may be suspended for engaging in bullying or cyberbullying, as well as include anonymous reporting mechanisms, disciplinary consequences for students who make false reports, and strategies for protecting the victim and/or individual who reported an incident from harassment or retaliation. Districts must also develop age-appropriate ways to educate students about the anti-bullying policy and the consequences for violating the policy; train all teachers, administrators, counselors, nurses, and school psychologists on the anti-bullying policies; and submit written summaries of all reported incidents and post them on its website for the public to read.

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