As more attention has been focused on school-based bullying, states have moved to enact appropriate legislation that penalizes students who bully and provides assistance to those who have been victimized. By 2003, at least 15 states had passed some type of school anti-bullying law. Some laws also include prevention programming, although precisely what this covers and who is included vary. In July 2009, students involved with the organization Students Against Violence Everywhere (SAVE) testified before U.S. House of Representatives subcommittees on Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education, and Healthy Families and Communities, lobbying for a federal zero-tolerance law for bullying. Democratic Representative Linda Sanchez has sponsored the Safe Kids agenda, which includes several bills related to bullying. She would also like to see federal funds devoted to the creation of anti-harassment groups in schools.
According to Bully Police, a self-proclaimed “watchdog organization,” effective anti-bullying laws include 12 essential elements:
- The word “bully” is used in the text of the bill, law, policy, or statute.
- The law must clearly prohibit bullying, not address general school safety.
- Bullying and harassment must be explicitly defined, but there should be no emphasis on delineating who is a victim, as anyone can be the victim of a bully.
- The legislation should include recommendations on how to make model school policy.
- All key stakeholders are involved in its creation, including educators at various levels, guidance counselors, administrators, parents, and students.
- A good law mandates–not just suggests–anti-bullying programs.
- A timeline is stated for when school policies are required and when they are to be implemented.
- Legislation must include protection against reprisal, retaliation, or false accusations.
- Schools must be protected from lawsuits if they have a good policy and follow it.
- Provisions for counseling for victims should be included.
- Schools must submit accountability reports and face consequences if they do not implement or follow through with their policy.
- Cyberbullying must be addressed.
Based on these criteria, the Bully Police assigns letter grades to states in regard to their bullying laws. All states that have no law automatically receive an “F” grade for failing. “D” grades are assigned to states with very poor laws, “C” grades to those with mediocre laws, “B” grades to states with acceptable laws, and “A” grades to those with “near perfect” laws. Delaware, Florida, and Kentucky were recently assigned “A++” grades because their laws both include cyberbullying and provide for counseling for victims.
In Florida, Debbie Johnston pushed for the law, formally called the Jeffrey Johnston Stand Up for All Students Act, after her son, Jeffrey, committed suicide after enduring two years of bullying at school and on the Internet. Another one of the major architects of the Florida law, David Tirella, helped a family win a $4 million verdict against a Tampa area school district that failed to provide adequate protection for a victim of bullying, even after it had been reported to the school principal.
As of August 2008, laws in nine states (California, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oregon, and Vermont) plus Washington, D.C., prohibited bullying and harassment in schools based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The laws of 25 states do not specifically list protected categories (Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Missouri, New
Hampshire, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and West Virginia). Oregon, Minnesota, and Illinois are listed twice because, although their anti-bullying statutes do not specifically list protected groups, these groups are covered by the state antidiscrimination laws that cover educational institutions.
Some critics maintain that bullying laws do not work, noting that the United States has spent a lot of money since the 1999 Columbine shooting on ineffective programs and policies. For instance, the website Bullies2buddies argues that anti-bullying legislation tries to legislate morality, which is impossible. Most, however, believe that legislation is one strategy that may assist in preventing bullying and school violence.
- Chang, J., Owens, L., & Brady, J. (2008, May 2). Mom’s campaign for Florida anti-bully law finally pays off. ABC News. Retrieved from http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/story?id=4774894&page=1
- High, B. (n.d.). Making the grade. Bully Police. Retrieved from http://www.bullypolice.org/grade.html
- State by state: Anti-bullying laws in the U.S. (2008, August). Family Equality Council. Retrieved from http://www.lgbtbar.org/annual/CLE_materials/1D/anti-bullying_withcitations.pdf
- State laws related to bullying among children and youth. (n.d/). U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Retrieved from http://njbullying.org/documents/statelaws.pdf
- Why anti-bullying laws are doomed to fail. (2005, November). Bullies2Buddies. Retrieved from http://bullies2buddies.com/Essential-Articles-for-Home-Page/why-anti-bullying-laws-are-doomed-to-fail.html