New law cracks down on bullying in schools

Beginning in July 2014, each school board in Virginia must include in its student code of conduct a prohibition against bullying, including cyberbullying.

By Steffanie Atkins | Capital News Service

Beginning in July 2014, each school board in Virginia must include in its student code of conduct a prohibition against bullying, including cyberbullying. Moreover, school divisions must educate teachers and other employees about bullying and “the need to create a bully-free environment.

Those requirements are contained in legislation that Gov. Bob McDonnell signed into law last month. The legislation is House Bill 1871, introduced by Delegate Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond). It easily passed the House and Senate in February.

The bill seeks to crack down on bullying by children. Among other things, it provides a definition of bullying:

“Bullying’ means any aggressive and unwanted behavior that is intended to harm, intimidate, or humiliate the victim; involves a real or perceived power imbalance between the aggressor or aggressors and victim; and is repeated over time or causes severe emotional trauma. ‘Bullying’ includes cyber bullying. ‘Bullying’ does not include ordinary teasing, horseplay, argument, or peer conflict.”

The new law says every school board’s student conduct code must include policies and procedures that prohibit bullying.

“Such policies and procedures shall not be interpreted to infringe upon the First Amendment rights of students and are not intended to prohibit expression of religious, philosophical, or political views, provided that such expression does not cause an actual, material disruption of the work of the school,” the law states.

It also requires the Virginia Board of Education to provide local districts examples of bullying, ways to recognize bullying and methods to provide a bully-free environment.

Beginning with the 2005 school year, school boards were required to put anti-bullying regulations into their student codes of conduct. After a few years, officials determined that that language alone may not be as effective as they had hoped in discouraging bullying.

In 2012, the Virginia Department of Education presented to the General Assembly a study on the effectiveness of the 2005 regulations (pdf). The study recommended a “model anti-bullying policy” that will now be put in place for the 2014-15 school year.

Many local school systems already have strict anti-bullying policies in force and take these situations seriously. Chesterfield County is among one of the localities that prohibit bullying on their campuses.

“Our standards for student conduct already include a prohibition against bullying,” said Shawn M. Smith, assistant director of community relations in Chesterfield County.

Richmond Public Schools also have regulations against bullying. The school district’s code of conduct includes language prohibiting physically bullying, as well as teasing and spreading rumors.

“In addition to direct attacks, bullying may also be indirect, such as spreading rumors that cause victims to be socially isolated through intentional exclusion,” according to the Richmond Public Schools’ code of conduct for elementary students.

Cletisha Lovelace, a public information officer for the school system, said similar language is included in the codes for middle and high school students. This language was added to the codes of conduct pursuant to the 2005 legislation, but it will have to be updated with the new law.

photo by John Steven Fernandez

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