Deadline fast approaches for mandated policy on bullying prevention

Recognizing that bullying and fear disrupt student learning, California state law requires districts, county offices of education and charter schools to adopt procedures for preventing acts of bullying, including cyberbullying, by Dec. 31, 2019.

Additionally, state law mandates that boards adopt a policy prohibiting discrimination, harassment, intimidation and bullying based on disability, gender, gender identity, gender expression, nationality, race, ethnicity, immigration status, religion and sexual orientation, or association with a person or group with one or more of these actual or perceived characteristics.

Bullying negatively affects school climate and therefore hurts all students’ educational experiences. The American Psychological Association has found that students who are victims of bullying experience higher rates of school avoidance and dropping out, lower academic achievement, increased emotional challenges and higher likelihood of suicide attempts. The 2015–17 California Healthy Kids Survey indicated that 34 percent of seventh-grade students, 31 percent of ninth-grade students and 28 percent of 11th-grade students reported being harassed or bullied on school property. Other studies have shown that about 20 percent of students across these surveyed grade levels report experiencing cyberbullying.

Therefore, county offices, districts and school sites should stay vigilant of bullying behaviors and take preventative measures to minimize their occurrence, keeping in mind that bullying can appear in various forms, including physical, verbal, social/relational and cyberbullying.

A critical component of a district’s procedures should be staff professional development in the identification of bullying and strategies to address it. Districts are required to make the California Department of Education’s online training module on the dynamics of bullying and cyberbullying available annually to all certificated staff and to other employees who have regular interaction with students. Districts are also required to provide staff training to raise awareness of the legal obligation of the district to prevent the bullying of students. It is also important to teach students the negative impact of bullying, the difference between appropriate and inappropriate behaviors, how to advocate for themselves, how to help another student who is being bullied and when to seek assistance from a trusted adult.

District policies and procedures should include a reporting process, which can include an anonymous reporting system for students and parents/guardians who believe that a student has been bullied. Policy should also address follow-up actions to be taken if bullying is found to have occurred. Any student involved in an act of bullying, as a victim or perpetrator, may benefit from referral to a school counselor, school psychologist, social worker, child welfare attendance personnel, school nurse or other school support service personnel for case management, counseling and/or participation in a restorative justice program. When the behavior is severe or pervasive, suspension or expulsion of the perpetrator may be necessitated by law.

Governance teams should be aware of two new laws that may impact their policies related to bullying. Assembly Bill 34 (Ramos, D-Highland) requires districts, county offices and charter schools to make specified bullying and harassment prevention information readily accessible in a prominent location on their websites in a manner that is easily accessible to parents/guardians and students starting in the 2020–21 school year. AB 1127 (Rivas, D-Arleta) requires districts to approve intradistrict transfer requests for students who are victims of bullying and to allow victims of bullying to transfer to another district when there is no available school for an intradistrict transfer.

In developing or revising policy on bullying prevention and intervention, boards are encouraged to review CSBA’s updated sample board policy and administrative regulation BP/AR 5131.2 – Bullying, along with resources available through the following agencies and organizations: