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Bullying

"Bullying" refers to verbal, physical, or mental acts committed by a student to harass, intimidate, or cause harm to another student. Bullying may include verbal threats, physical assault, intimidation, or other forms of inappropriate behavior, such as harassment, disorderly conduct, and acts which disturb the peace. Because bullying on school campuses is a growing concern, parents, school districts, and students should be aware of the serious violations and violence that may occur as a result of student bullying, and how it may be addressed.

Anti-Bullying State Laws

A number of states have passed laws to address intimidation, harassment, and bullying in schools. These "anti-bullying" laws are meant to promote school safety, improve truancy rates, and reduce school violence, among other things. The law specifically requires schools to create certain policies for prevention, training, and enforcement concerning behavior that may lead to bullying. Students who violate anti-bullying provisions face suspension and expulsion; whereas schools and districts may face large monetary fines arising out of civil liability claims.

Examples of specific behavior that constitutes bullying include:

  • Wearing gang paraphernalia and other clothing meant to intimidate or exclude another;
  • Spreading rumors or posting degrading, harmful, or explicit pictures, messages, or information using social media or other forms of electronic communication (also known as "cyberbullying");
  • Taunting or making sexual slurs about a person's gender orientation or sexual status;
  • Name-calling, joking, or making offensive remarks about a person's religion, gender, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status; and
  • Physical acts of bullying, such as punching, slapping, or tripping someone.

Federal Anti-Bullying Laws

While federal laws do not specifically address bullying per se, a school or district may be charged with violation of First Amendment, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, and other laws aimed at protecting an individual's right to equal protection. For example, the Supreme Court has held that parents may sue a school or district for failing to take action on a sexual harassment claim it knew about, but failed to act on (in the case of Davis v. Monroe County Board of Education).

For information on commonly asked questions concerning a student's federal rights, click here.

Penalties

Students who engage in certain acts associated with bullying may be suspended or expelled from a school or district, as well as face civil fines and criminal penalties, including jail time, depending on the specific violation.

School districts may also face civil law penalties, in the form of hefty monetary fines, arising out of a failure to prevent or punish certain types of behavior by students within their district.

To see a list of specific state laws agaist bullying, click here.

Next Steps
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(e.g., Chicago, IL or 60611)

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