Bullying: Why districts and parents fail: PART 1 – federal laws

“The percentage of students who reported being bullied was lower in 2013 (22 percent) than in every prior survey year (28 percent each in 2005, 2009, and 2011 and 32 percent in 2007).” 1

I have worked with bullying issues in multiple states and multiple districts representing families. There are common threads to all the cases, each one having been resolved to the family’s (and more importantly, to the student’s) satisfaction. But the question is, with all the emphasis and efforts to stop bullying, why do over 20 percent of students age 11-18 still report being bullied? That equals 5 students in a classroom of 25!

Why is it that schools routinely tell me “we don’t have any bullying”? Why do parents feel helpless to stop the bullying and show me that they have repeatedly “reported” the issue (the reason for those quotes will be explained)? Why does it sometimes take bringing in federal investigators to get the school’s attention (easier than you think)?

And how can a school district protect itself? I do not enjoy working on bullying cases but it does give me satisfaction to protect a student and get them what they deserve (a safe school environment). I would much rather see a true bullying-free school district. Or a district that stops bullying on the first report (when the report turns out to be accurate).

We will look at how a family can stop a student from being bullied, how a district can be more responsive and not open to legal actions, and many of the issues surrounding bullying and harassment. This series will take the issue a step at a time.

  • Look at and understand the federal laws and regulations that currently exist (none)
  • Lay out the actual definition of bullying (probably not what you think)
  • Discuss the way school administrators interpret (and misinterpret) state laws
  • What constitutes a “report” of bullying? (legally and it is less than you think)
  • Are civil rights laws involved?
  • Special education students, does their involvement make a difference (either as aggressor or target … or both?)
  • What the school or district does with the “report,” if anything.
  • What should / must be done upon receipt of the report?
    • What is a Safety Plan?
    • What is a Safe Person?
  • How to make sure the report is heard.
  • How do schools investigate bullying, if at all? How does the parent know?
  • What if the family disagrees with the determination?
  • What can a district do to legally protect themselves (other than “the right thing”)?

We can start the series with an easy question …

What are the Federal Laws and Regulations regarding bullying in school?

Actually, there are none.

Information on bullying from the Federal Government is found on the StopBullying.gov website.2 Their mission statement is “StopBullying.gov provides information from various government agencies on what bullying is, what cyberbullying is, who is at risk, and how you can prevent and respond to bullying.” 3

“Are there federal laws that apply to bullying?

“At present, no federal law directly addresses bullying. In some cases, bullying overlaps with discriminatory harassment which is covered under federal civil rights laws enforced by the U.S. Department of Education (ED) and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ).” 4

I will be referring to that site often, but the important note is that none of the information provided there is law.

There are state laws. Or policies. Or both. It gets confusing, and individual school districts do this as well; they may have a bullying policy and a bullying plan. A policy is a principle, a goal, that guides decision making; a law is a rule that is enforced. They should align with each other, and in most cases they do.

If you are interested, you can learn more about which states have laws and/or policies, and check yours out here.


Next time we will look at the definition of bullying, how it differs in the federal government’s definition (no, there are no laws, but yes, they do define it) vs. many states, and the major problem this causes families and schools. Real examples, real problems.


  1. U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Department of Justice, Indicators of School Crime and Safety 2014; page vi.
  2. “A federal government website managed by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services
  3. StopBullying.gov, About Us
  4. StopBullying.gov, Federal Laws
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