January 01, 2012

U.S. Education Department Releases Analysis of State Bullying Laws

U.S. Department of Education

The views expressed herein have not been approved by the House of Delegates or the Board of Governors of the American Bar Association, and accordingly, should not be construed as representing the policy of the American Bar Association.

State legislatures throughout the country are stepping up efforts to curb bullying in schools. On December 6, 2011, the U.S. Department of Education released Analysis of State Bullying Laws and Policies, a new report summarizing current approaches in the 46 states with anti-bullying laws. It also highlights the 41 states that have created anti-bullying policies as models for schools.

The report shows the prevalence of state efforts to combat bullying over the last several years. From 1999 to 2010, more than 120 bills were enacted by state legislatures from across the country to either introduce or amend statutes that address bullying and related behaviors in schools. Twenty-one new bills were enacted in 2010 and eight additional bills were signed into law through April 30, 2011.

Out of the 46 states with anti-bullying laws in place, 36 have provisions that prohibit cyberbullying and 13 have statutes that grant schools the authority to address off-campus behavior that creates a hostile school environment.

“Every state should have effective bullying prevention efforts in place to protect children inside and outside of school,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “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 first Federal Partners in Bullying Prevention Summit, hosted in August 2010 by the Department and other federal agencies, exposed an information gap regarding anti-bullying laws and policies across the country. The summit brought together government officials, researchers, policymakers, and education practitioners to explore strategies to combat bullying in schools. To address this information gap and respond to requests for technical assistance, the Department composed Anti-Bullying Policies: Examples of Provisions in State Laws, a guidance document outlining common key components of state anti-bullying laws.

Following the Summit, the Department’s Policy and Program Studies Service contracted researchers to compile the analysis on state laws and policies. In preparing the report, researchers reviewed and coded legislation and policy documents in every state across the country along with an additional sample of 20 local school districts. The report sought to address the extent to which states’ bullying laws and model policies contained the key components identified in the December guidance. A follow-up study will aim to identify how state laws translate into practice at the school level.

Main Study Questions

To what extent do states’ bullying laws cover U.S. Department of Education-identified key legislative and policy components?

To what extent do states’ model bullying policies cover U.S. Department of Education-identified key legislative and policy components?

To what extent do school districts’ bullying policies cover U.S. Department of Education-identified school district policy subcomponents?

Key Findings

Forty-six states have bullying laws and 45 of those laws direct school districts to adopt bullying policies. However, three of the 46 states prohibit bullying without defining the behavior that is prohibited.

Thirty-six states include provisions in their education codes prohibiting cyberbullying or bullying using electronic media. Thirteen states specify that schools have jurisdiction over off-campus behavior if it creates a hostile school environment.

Forty-one states have created model bullying policies, 12 of which were not mandated to do so under law. Three other states, including Hawaii, Montana, and Michigan, also developed model policies in the absence of state bullying legislation.

Among the 20 school district bullying policies reviewed in this study, districts located in states with more expansive legislation produced the most expansive school district policies. However, several school districts in states with less expansive laws also substantially expanded the scope and content of their policies beyond the minimum legal expectations.