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On June 15th, Governor Lynch signed the bullying bill into law. It represents a significant rewrite and expansion of the Pupil Safety and Violence Protection Act which was originally enacted in 2000. With the new law in place, school districts must take a number of actions in order to comply with the law and protect themselves from liability.
By January 1, 2011, the school board of every district must adopt a written policy that prohibits bullying and cyberbullying. The law sets forth 14 components that need to be included in the district’s policy. Every policy must include procedures for reporting bullying and cyberbullying. Most districts probably have a procedure like this in place. However, other components may be new to a number of districts. For example, every bullying policy must include a statement prohibiting retaliation and false accusations. Policies must also include a process for developing plans to protect students from retaliation.
In addition, the new law directs school boards to include standard definitions for certain terms, including “bullying” and “cyberbullying.” Even if a district has a bullying policy in place, it is unlikely to include the definitions required by the new law. “Bullying” must be defined to include any written, verbal, or electronic communication, or physical act or gesture which:
Most districts typically think of bullying as a number of incidents occurring over time. The new law represents a significant shift in how we think about bullying by making it clear that bullying can be either a single incident or a pattern of incidents that occur over time.
The new law requires school boards to involve the community in the development of bullying policies to the greatest extent practicable. This should include students, parents, teachers, administrators, volunteers, law enforcement and other community representatives. Boards should give careful consideration to the various ways they can involve the community in policy development. Input could be gathered using public forums, staff meetings, PTA/PTO meetings, school assemblies, or any combination thereof.
Once bullying policies are adopted, the law requires districts to provide training and educational programming on bullying and cyberbullying. School employees, volunteers and employees of any company under contract with a school or district, such as bus drivers, who have significant contact with students must be trained on the bullying policy. Training should also address ways to prevent, identify and respond to incidents of bullying and cyberbullying. Training must be provided by April 1, 2011 and annually thereafter. Similar educational programming should be provided to students and parents.
Finally, the law requires districts to report substantiated incidents of bullying and cyberbullying to the department of education on an annual basis. Districts should put procedures in place now so that substantiated incidents are being documented and can be reported to the department of education in a timely manner.
Now that New Hampshire's bullying law has been enacted, school districts are faced with the challenge of complying with a multitude of new requirements including policy writing, training and reporting. Given the deadlines included in the law, districts must act quickly in order to be in compliance.
If you have questions about the new requirements, please contact Marla Matthews at (603) 545-3604.
* Marla B. Matthews is licensed to practice in New Hampshire.
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