States can pass tougher and broader anti-bullying laws, making in- and out-of-school bullying of all children, including military children, a more serious and punishable offense.
Bullying is certainly an age-old tradition, but these days, bullies have access to new tools, from cell phones to Facebook and more. The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) reports that every day, at least 160,000 U.S. children skip school because they fear bullies. The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development estimates that approximately 30 percent of children in grades 6 through 9 have been bullied or have bullied another child.
According to the Army Times, military children may be at high risk for bullying for two reasons:
- They move often and they are often the out-of-place “new kids”
- The stress of parental deployment can leave children feeling worried, vulnerable, and exposed, making them prime targets for bullies
Unfortunately, military children are also sometimes the ones doing the bullying. Their parents, who may be stressed about finances, repeated deployments, or frequent moves, may lash out against their children who, in turn, may lash out against their peers. According to one 2007 study from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, the rate of child abuse and neglect is 42 percent higher when a parent is deployed versus when both parents are home.
Military spouses reveal anecdotally in their blogs that they sometimes bully each other around bases; in other blogs, military parents acknowledge that they can also be victims of bullying in their units.
What States are Doing
While parents and advocates can help address the problem at the community level, state laws can back them up. The National Conference of State Legislatures reported that by mid-2011, 39 states had passed or proposed laws to make bullying and harassment less severe and less common. And, according to Olweus Bullying Prevention Program from The Hazeldon Foundation and Clemson University, all states except South Dakota address bullying in their educational codes.
Florida passed the “Jeffrey Johnston Stand Up for All Students Act” into law in June 2008. School districts can lose Safe School funding, which are available only when a school follows state bullying codes and reports incidents appropriately and can be used for:
- after-school programs for middle-school students
- implementing conflict-resolution strategies
- alternative programs for adjudicated youth
- suicide prevention programs
Named for a boy who committed suicide because of school bullies, the act makes in-person or online bullying of any K-12 student or school employee during school or school-sponsored events, or via public computers, illegal. The law also requires teachers and administrators to work with parents, volunteers, school staff, and students to devise policies to comply with the law.
Jeff’s Law defines any sort of continued teasing, harassment, intimidation, stalking, violence, theft, destruction of property, social exclusion, or public humiliation as bullying if the action is intended to cause emotional or physical harm. According to Florida’s Department of Education, the law describes bullying as sexual, religious, or racial harassment and allows school districts to specify other categories. Schools must report cases of bullying to teachers, principals, and parents, as well as to proper law enforcement officials. Victims and bullies must then receive counseling.
- Representative Matt Caldwell
contact: Charlotte Gammie, legislative aide
New Jersey passed the “Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights,” which the New York Times called “the toughest anti-bullying legislation in the country.” The law was propelled by the public outcry surrounding the highly publicized suicide of Tyler Clementi, a Rutgers University freshman and bullying victim. His death highlighted the role that the Internet and social media now play in bullying that is: a phenomenon no longer confined to playgrounds and lunch lines.
With its 18 pages of “required components,” the law demands that all New Jersey public schools adopt broad anti-bullying policies. In addition, schools must increase staff training and adhere to strict deadlines for reporting bullying incidents. The law also takes into account the influence of Internet and social media, meaning that non-school related and off-premise harassment are considered bullying.
To fully comply with the law, schools must designate anti-bullying specialists to investigate complaints, districts must designate anti-bullying coordinators, and the state education department must evaluate each school’s efforts. Teachers and administrators who do not comply risk losing their licenses.
New Jersey State Senate Majority Leader and bill sponsor
Valerie Vainieri Huttle
New Jersey assemblywoman and bill sponsor
Utah enacted a series of revisions to its education codes outlawing bullying and strictly defining what would count as a violation. All Utah schools are required to write formal bullying policies.
According to these Utah codes, a bully is someone who knowingly puts a student in physical danger or creates fear of physical harm and may use alcohol, weapons, or other tools to increase intimidation or pain. Bullying is not allowed at any school or school-affiliated location, including bus stops and sports games. The use of physical or psychological violence to initiate someone into a club, team, or group while on or traveling to and from school grounds or school-sponsored events counts is considered bullying.
Anyone participating in or coaching a sport or club must undergo training about the dangers of hazing and methods for preventing and reporting it. Participants must be retrained every three years.
Schools must evaluate and bullying problems and are encouraged assess bully-prone areas such as hallways and lunchrooms. Students must complete surveys to depict bullying in their communities. And all non-teaching school staff members are included in bullying awareness training.
- Representative Carol Spackman Moss
Other states have laws with provisions worth highlighting:
- Georgia’s bullying law requires students to undergo “character education” courses, which Bully Police USA rates as an “A++” model.
- Illinois’ legislation includes military children in its anti-bullying and anti-discrimination law, specifying that discrimination against military children because of their parents’ military status is illegal.
- Several states, including Rhode Island, define lewd text messaging as bullying.
What the Federal Government Is Doing
Several federal agencies, including the Departments of Defense, Education, and Health and Human Services, are working together to “Stop Bullying Now!”