Bullying Under Federal Law


Anti-bullying laws have been growing at local and state levels.  There is no federal law currently, however, which protects children from bullying.   It is only when the behavior overlaps with harassment that schools legally obligated to address it.

In Georgia, schools that receive federal funding are required to address discrimination.  There is federal protection for those involved in discriminatory harassment when it is based on race, nationality, color, sex, age, disability, or religion.  If the state level organization is unable to resolve the harassment, the two federal divisions that overlook this issue are the United States Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, and the United States Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division. These federal groups can get involved if the harassment is severe or persistent, creates a hostile environment, or is based on race, nationality, sex, disability, or religion.

Matthew Albright reviewed a report that looks at how schools are implementing laws passed in 2012 where schools were given more responsibility to combat cyber-bullying and bullying in general. The report is said to give a mixed picture on anti-bullying efforts.   In this regard, some believe that schools simply are not putting in the effort to prevent bullying.  Deputy Attorney General Patricia Dailey Lewis puts the burden of responsibility on parents who she encourages to actively force the school system to do better. Because freedom from bullying is not protected under federal law,  incidents should be handled and monitored by parents and school staff.

A study published by Laura M. Bogart, PhD et al. looks at the effects of bullying in children.  The objective of this study is to assess the longitudinal relationship between mental and physical health and bullying.  The study group consists of students from elementary to high school.

4,297 children were surveyed at three intervals over the course of their primary education. One survey was conducted when the child was in fifth grade, then again when the child reached seventh grade, and finally after the child reached the tenth grade.  This study looked at three different cities.  Multivariate regression was implemented, differentiating between students who reported bullying in the past and present, students who only experienced bullying currently, and students who only experienced bullying in the past.

The study results showed a lower level of self-worth, worse mental and physical health, and a higher rate of depression for victims of bullying.  Children who reported being bullied in the past and present showed the lowest decline of psychosocial health.  Students who reported constant bullying claimed to have problems with everyday activities such as walking and other physical activities. The students bullied in the past and present reported significantly lower physical health scores compared to those who were only bullied in the present.

The conclusion of the study states clinicians who are able to recognize a victimized child could intervene and prevent the downward trend of the child’s health.  The method is hard for some to conceptualize, however. The Mayo Clinic reports several signs of victimization a parent or therapist might notice. Lost or destroyed clothing, social avoidance, poor school performance, trouble sleeping, and distress after spending time online, low self-esteem, and self-destructive behavior.  To help a child through this time of their life, a parent should encourage them to speak about their concerns.  A parent should also learn about the specific bullying, and find out how to make the child feel safe.

It would also be beneficial to combat the negative effects of bullying, and this includes boosting the young person’s confidence level. Because bullying can cross over into discriminatory harassment, which is a violation under federal law, the child and parent should know that some acts constitute a crime.  As a parent or clinician, the details of the incident should be recorded, and if necessary, reported to authorities.

By Lindsey Alexander


Mayo Clinic




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