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New Anti-Bullying Statute Goes Into Effect Today

If you haven’t already, be sure to get a copy of Substitute Bill 1138, Public Act 11-232, effective July 1, 2011, which makes sweeping changes to the State’s anti-bullying statute applicable to public school districts.  The new law adds specific prohibitions against cyber-bullying, redefines “bullying” for purposes of the statute, and requires school districts to replace their 2009 school bullying “policy” with a “safe school climate plan” (to be approved by the school board and submitted to the Department of Education by January 1, 2012).  The safe school climate plan must include (beginning July 1, 2012) the appointment of a district “safe school climate coordinator” to oversee a “safe school climate specialist” at each school, who shall (beginning July 1, 2012) be the school principal or the principal’s designee.  Also beginning July 1, 2012, each school principal must set up a safe school climate committee which shall include at least one parent or guardian of a student enrolled in the school.  The committee is responsible for reviewing completed bullying investigation reports and identifying and addressing patterns of bullying in the school, reviewing and amending school policies relating to bullying, making recommendations on school climate issues, and collaborating with the school climate coordinator regarding the collection of bullying data.  The parent representative should participate in all of this, except the first two items “or any other activity that may compromise the confidentiality of a student”.

The revised definition of bullying states “(A) the repeated use by one or more students of a written, oral or electronic communication, such as cyberbullying, directed at or referring to another student attending school in the same school district, or (B) a physical act or gesture by one or more students repeatedly directed at another student attending school in the same school district, that (i) causes physical or emotional harm to such student or damage to such student’s property, (ii) places such student in reasonable fear of harm to himself or herself, or of damage to his or her property, (iii) creates a hostile environment at school for such student, (iv) infringes on the rights of such student at school, or (v) substantially disrupts the education process or the orderly operation of a school.”

Beyond this, bullying includes, but is not limited to “a written, oral or electronic communication or physical act or gesture based on any actual or perceived differentiating characteristic, such as race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, socioeconomic status, academic status, physical appearance, or mental, physical, developmental or sensory disability, or by association with an individual or group who has or is perceived to have one or more of such characteristics”.

School employees who witness acts of bullying or receive reports of bullying, under the new “safe school climate plan” must orally notify the safe school climate specialist not later than one school day after the incident or report, and must file a written report no more than 2 school days afterwards.

School employees required to comply with these reporting requirements include teachers, substitute teachers, school administrators, superintendents, guidance counselors, psychologists, social workers, nurses, physicians, paraprofessionals, coaches, or independent contractors who regularly work with schoolchildren.

After the investigation into the alleged act of bullying is complete, if the act of bullying is verified, notification must be provided to the parents of the alleged victim and the alleged bully within 48 hours of the completion of the investigation, and an invitation to a meeting to discuss the incident must be issued to each set of parents.

If the act of bullying constitutes “criminal conduct”, the new safe school climate plan must require that the principal or designee notify the local law enforcement agency of the alleged conduct.

If the Department of Education is able (“within available appropriations”) to develop a model safe school climate plan for districts to use, it will do so, and along with instruments designed to collect school climate assessments, will be distributed these items to districts through the Connecticut Association of Schools.  The Department may also establish (“within available appropriations”) a state-wide safe school climate resource network to help districts identify, prevent and educate people regarding school bullying in the state.

This is not, by any means, a comprehensive listing of all of the provisions in the new statute.  We urge you to read the Public Act, stay tuned for additional information, start thinking about the publications and notifications you may need to revise in your own district before the fall student/parent handbooks come out, and consult with your school attorney for advice!