Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Our Schools’ Responsibilities in Addressing Bullying and Harassment

While there is no federal law that specifically applies to bullying, state legislators in all fifty states have made it a priority to have law, policy, or both law and policy on this highly relevant topic. Federally, when it is related to color, race, national origin, gender, disability, or religion there are policies in place that do address these protected groups as discriminatory in nature. While each state has the latitude to establish its own approach to addressing bullying and harassment, there are common connections between states.  These connections include a purpose statement, a statement of scope, specifications of prohibited conduct, a list of specific characteristics of bully/harassment, components of policy (such as reporting, investigating and responding, and keeping written records), and information regarding training staff and developing a communication plan. To find specifics regarding a particular state, visit www.stopbullying.gov/laws/index.html for information.
Iowa has both policy and law in place to address bullying/harassment in its school districts. The state mandated that all school districts have an anti-bullying/harassment comprehensive plan in place by September 1, 2007. School accreditation is directly connected to this expectation.  The expectations for schools are outlined clearly on the Department of Education’s website at www.educationiowa.gov. Click on the link to “A-Z Index” and scroll down the list to the letter “B” under which you will find the “bullying” information. Basically, Iowa policy and law addresses the following:
*definition of bullying and harassment that is consistent with the state legislation
*a statement that bullying and harassment are against the law
*a statement that makes the policy applicable to school employees, volunteers, and  students
*a statement that addresses consequences for those who violate the policy
*a procedure to report and investigate complaints
*a procedure to communicate information to parents, students, staff, and community members.

Iowa also offers a decision matrix for districts to use to guide them in making decisions regarding situations that may arise. Iowa also offers an appeal document for open enrollment situations involving bullying and/or harassment. This information is very valuable and should be consulted in any event bullying and/or harassment becomes a problem for any child, resident or open-enrolled.

At one time during their educational journey our children will be the target of bullying/harassing behaviors, exhibit behaviors that are considered bullying/harassment, witness situations in which they observe a bully/target dynamic, or all of these. It is imperative that parents know how to prevent and respond to situations involving bullying/harassment. A great place to begin is with a basic knowledge and understanding of the law and how it pertains to an individual state and local school district within the respective state. After one has a basic grasp of the legal obligation of schools, securing a better understanding of the dynamic of those involved is important in prevention and response situations.

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