We’re just over a quarter of the way through the year, but 2019 has already seen significant developments in the nation’s state houses regarding bullying and harassment.
The following is a snapshot of recent activity by state:
ARIZONA: With bipartisan support in the State Legislature, Gov. Doug Ducey repealed a 1991 law this month that barred public school teachers from portraying “homosexuality as a positive alternative lifestyle” in the classroom. The move was spurred by a lawsuit filed on behalf of two teens who contended the law had destructive impacts on LGBTQ students – namely, that it held teachers back from building tolerance among student bodies and contributed to bullying. “I am so proud of this 12-year-old and this 15-year-old for standing up and suing our state to do the right thing, because today’s vote is long overdue,” Rep. Andrés Cano said on the Arizona House floor. ” Our schools should be safe; they should be inclusive; they should be free from harassment, bullying and stigmatization.”
INDIANA: The Indiana House of Representatives rejected a measure that would have required private schools that accept state funding to follow the same anti-bullying rules as their public school counterparts. According to a report by WRTV of Indianapolis, the bill called for non-public schools to implement a protocol for investigating incidents, timetables for sharing information about incidents with police and parents, and to offer anonymous reporting option for students, among other steps. More encouraging for Indiana, is House Bill 1607, legislation that would allow students to get a protective order to stop bullying including cyberbullying.
MARYLAND: “Grace’s Law 2.0” will carry stronger fines and jail terms for cyberbullying and make offenses easier to prosecute. The law was named after Grace McComas, a 15-year-old who committed suicide in 2012 after being victimized online. McComas’s parents were on hand as Gov. Larry Hogan signed the bill into law this month. One of the most prominent changes to the law makes it an offense to post harassing content online for the consumption of a broad audience, even if the target of the bullying doesn’t see it.
MASSACHUSETTS: Gov. Charlie Baker re-filed a bill in February that aims to modernize the law regarding revenge porn, sexting and cyberbullying. The legislation would provide prosecutors with new flexibility to enroll minors who are caught sharing sexually explicit images with their peers into educational diversion programs, rather than charging them for the distribution or possession of child pornography. It would also require schools to educate their students on the harm they can cause by sharing sexual images with others as a means of bullying. In addition, the law would close a prosecution loophole for those over 18 who share images that were taken consensually for the purposes of revenge or embarrassment. The bill was first proposed in 2017, but failed to clear the Legislature at the time.
NEW JERSEY: The state became the second in the nation to require public school districts to develop an LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum. Signed into law by Gov. Phil Murphy in February, the legislation will ensure that instructional materials reflect the political, economic and social contributions of LGBTQ Americans and people with disabilities. The advocacy group, Garden State Equality, celebrated the announcement, noting in a statement that reflecting more diversity in class lessons “will cultivate respect towards minority groups, allow students to appreciate differences, and acquire the skills and knowledge needed to function effectively with people of various backgrounds.”
NEW MEXICO: The Safe Schools for All Students Act will require school boards to enact comprehensive bullying prevention policies and procedures by New Year’s Day. Signed into law by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham in April, the act demands schools provide avenues for reporting bullying (both orally in their preferred language and anonymously), a process for investigating complaints of bullying, due process for students accused of bullying, and a range of disciplinary measures for students found to have bullied other students. The law specifically cites the need for better protecting LGBTQ students and demands that schools’ new bullying policies be communicated in various languages in student handbooks. Schools will also have to report annually on their progress implementing the act.
NORTH DAKOTA: State officials amended North Dakota’s 2011 anti-bullying law to require that schools develop plans for addressing online abuse taking place off school grounds. Although some officials expressed reservations about schools becoming liable for off-campus incidents, the bill overwhelmingly passed both houses of the Legislative Assembly and was signed by Gov. Doug Burgum in April. The law calls for schools to get involved in situations where electronic communications initiated off grounds place the student in “actual and reasonable fear” of harm and “interferes with the student’s educational opportunities or substantially disrupts the orderly operation of the public school.” It also requires school district personnel to notify police if they have a reasonable suspicion that a crime might have occurred on or off school property.
Click here to learn more about anti-bullying laws, policies and regulations on the books throughout the U.S.