Antibullying Initiatives: An Update on Federal Legislation

Article excerpt

Bullying in schools has taken center stage in public debate surrounding school legislation and policy over the past decade. Arguably, the catalyst for the increased attention to the issue of bullying was the tragedy at Columbine High School in 1999. This incident led to the creation of a host of new legislation aimed at combating school violence and addressing bullying in the schools, a trend that has recently been reignited by a number of highly visible suicides linked to bullying and harassment. Over the past 10 years, the body of research documenting the negative and long-term consequences of bullying has grown substantially, placing increased pressure on schools, school systems, and governments to develop and implement effective policies and practices to address bullying. As school psychologists, we are in an excellent position to help design and implement universal systems of support so that all students feel safe and supported. In addition, it is our ethical responsibility to ensure that all students have the chance to learn in an environment that is free from discrimination, harassment, aggression, violence, and abuse. Part of this responsibility involves advocating for legislation and policy development designed to reduce bullying in our schools. This article will provide an update on the activities happening at the federal level and within NASP so that you can become a more active advocate for all students.

WHAT IS BULLYING?

Dr. Dan Owleus, a leader in bullying research, defines bullying as a relationship that is marked by a real or perceived power imbalance where one or more people act aggressively over time with the intent to harm others. Bullying can be physical (e.g., hitting, taking someone's belongings), verbal (e.g., making threats, name calling), relational (e.g., spreading rumors, purposefully excluding someone), and electronic (e.g., texting, social media outlets). Although it can be difficult to tell the difference, teasing is not considered bullying. Teasing usually involves two or more people who are acting in a way that seems fun and playful, the teasing goes both ways, and it does not involve the intent to hurt others. Conversely, bullying often involves those who are not friends and the behavior is one-sided (Owleus, 1993).

There are large numbers of students who report being bullied. Results of the 2009 Youth Risk Behavior Survey revealed that 20% of students had experienced some form of bullying in the past year (CDC, 2010). Most students (85%) who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender reported being verbally harassed, 40% reported being physically harassed, and 19% reported being physically assaulted at school because of their sexual orientation (Kosciw, Greytak, Diaz, & Bartkiewicz, 2010). In addition, students with disabilities are significantly more likely to be victims of bullying when compared to their nondisabled peers (National Council on Disability, 2011). There is a growing body of evidence that indicates that bullying can result in long-term psychological difficulties such as depression, anxiety, aggression, and increased risk of suicide (Klomek, Marrocoo, Kleinman, Schoneeld, & Gould, 2007). There are academic consequences as well. Students who are chronically bullied showdecreased interest in school, have trouble concentrating, feel less connected and engaged in school, and demonstrate lower academic achievement (You et al., 2008). The negative outcomes associated with bullying extend beyond the victims. Students who engage in bullying behavior have higher rates of substance abuse, poorer social skills, increased mental health difficulties, and a higher risk for criminal involvement as adults (O'Brennan, Bradshaw, and Sawyer, 2009). For some students, the situation is so bad that they skip school entirely. All students deserve to attend school in a safe, respectful, and caring environment that supports academic achievement, mental health, and social-emotional development. …