US Education Secretary Advises on Bullying Epidemic

December 2010

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The following memo was written by United States Education Secretary to the Chief School offices on December 16, 2010 regarding the current bullying epidemic.

Dear Colleagues,

Recent incidents of bullying have demonstrated its potentially devastating effects on students, schools, and communities and have spurred a sense of urgency among State and local educators and policymakers to take action to combat bullying. The U.S. Department of Education (Department) shares this sense of urgency and is taking steps to help school officials effectively reduce bullying in our Nation’s schools. Bullying can be extremely damaging to students, can disrupt an environment conducive to learning, and should not be tolerated in our schools.

Along with our partners from the Departments of Health and Human Services, Agriculture, Interior, Defense, and Justice, we are in the process of developing key strategies to support and encourage efforts to prevent bullying in our schools. Our ongoing work has included the first-ever Federal Bullying Prevention Summit in August, the launch of our interagency bullying-resource Web site, http://www.bullyinginfo.org, the continued support and growth of the Stop Bullying Now! campaign, and the development of research and guidance on bullying prevention. The Department also awarded eleven Safe and Supportive Schools Grants to states to develop measurement systems to assess schools’ conditions for learning, including the prevalence of bullying, and to implement programs to improve overall school safety.

Recent guidance includes a Dear Colleague Letter issued on October 26 by the Department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) that explains how, under certain circumstances, bullying may trigger legal responsibilities for schools under the civil rights laws enforced by OCR and the Department of Justice that prohibit discrimination and harassment based on race, color, national origin, sex, disability, and religion.1 Schools must protect students from bullying and harassment on these bases, in addition to any obligations under state and local law.

Numerous stakeholders, including the National Conference of State Legislatures, the National Association of School Boards, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, individual State legislators, and local school districts, among others, have asked the Department to provide assistance in crafting effective anti-bullying laws and policies. In response, the Department has prepared the attached summary of examples that illustrate how some states have tried to prevent and reduce bullying through legislation. States and local school districts can use these examples as technical assistance in drafting effective anti-bullying laws, regulations, and policies. The Department will also be working to produce additional helpful resource information.

Forty-five states have already passed laws addressing bullying or harassment in school. Ultimately State officials will determine whether new or revised legislation and policies should be introduced to update, improve, or add bullying prevention provisions. It is our hope that this information will be of assistance to State officials and other interested stakeholders.

Though laws are only a part of the cure for bullying, the adoption, publication, and enforcement of a clear and effective anti-bullying policy sends a message that all incidents of bullying must be addressed immediately and effectively, and that such behavior will not be tolerated. State laws, and their related district- and school-level policies, cannot work in isolation, however. When responding to bullying incidents, schools and districts should remember that maintenance of a safe and equitable learning environment for all students, including both victims and perpetrators of bullying, often requires a more comprehensive approach. If you wish to receive further technical assistance on addressing bullying, please do not hesitate to contact the Department’s Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools by visiting its Web site at http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/osdfs/index.html or by calling at 202-245-7896.

I look forward to continuing our work together to ensure equal access to education and to promote safe and respectful schools for all of our students.

Sincerely,

Arne Duncan

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