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Student Bullying: Overview of Research, Federal Initiatives, and Legal Issues

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Many Members of Congress have become increasingly concerned about what can be done to address student bullying. This concern has arisen in response to high-profile bullying incidents that have occurred in recent years, and due to a growing body of research on the negative consequences of school bullying. Congress is interested in ensuring that schools are safe, secure places for students, so that they can receive the full benefits of their education. Several bills that address school bullying have already been introduced in the 113th Congress, although none has been enacted as of the date of this report. Some of the research on anti-bullying programs has found mixed success, particularly in the United States. However, a meta-analysis of 44 evaluations identified particular characteristics of school-based bullying programs that may help reduce bullying. This study found the intensity and duration of a program, as well as the number of program elements, to be linked with effectiveness. Other factors found to be important to effectiveness were parent training, parent meetings, firm disciplinary methods, classroom rules, classroom management, and improved playground supervision. Currently, there is no federal statute that explicitly prohibits student bullying or cyber-bullying. Under some circumstances, however, bullying may be prohibited by certain federal civil rights laws. In addition, bullying may, in some instances, constitute a violation of state criminal or tort law. There are several federal initiatives that are specifically focused on student bullying, including interagency initiatives. In addition, there are a variety of federal initiatives that are not solely or primarily focused on student bullying, but permit some funds to be used for this purpose. Representatives from the U.S. Departments of Agriculture, Defense, Education, Health and Human Services, the Interior, and Justice, as well as the Federal Trade Commission and the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, have formed a Federal Partners in Bullying Prevention Steering Committee. The Federal Partners work to coordinate policy, research, and communications on bullying topics. The Federal Partners have created a website,, which provides extensive resources on bullying, including information on how schools can address bullying. Although there is currently no federal anti-bullying statute, there has been a surge in state legislation in recent years. A Department of Education (ED) study found that between 1999 and 2010, 120 bills and amendments to existing bills were introduced by states. Currently, 49 states have passed anti-bullying legislation. The majority of these laws direct school districts to adopt anti-bullying policies. However, the requirements placed on schools by these laws are quite varied. In addition, many of these laws do not contain all the key components of anti-bullying legislation that the U.S. Department of Education identified as important in a document it distributed to school districts.

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bullying; Congress; students; legislation


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