School Bullying Investigation and Prevention Mandated


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Last Updated on April 8, 2021 by Michelle Ball

By Michelle Ball, California Education Attorney for Students since 1995

School bullying can be very destructive and even deadly, if not addressed promptly. Schools are in the best position to investigate and prevent student bullying as often bullying occurs on school campuses. Parents and students must learn about school obligations to stop and resolve student bullying.

US Department of Education: Bullying Investigation Is Mandatory
In an official opinion letter from the United States Department of Education to all school districts titled: “Dear Colleague Letter: Harassment and Bullying”, the US Department of Education explains that schools are in the best position to investigate and stop bullying and harassment. 

In fact, schools have a legal duty to investigate student bullying and stop it. 

school bully must be investigated
School bullies can be intimidating, but once a bullying situation is known, the school must investigate and resolve it
The USDOE states in this “Dear Colleague” letter states:

A school is responsible for addressing harassment incidents about which it knows or reasonably should have known. In some situations, harassment may be in plain sight, widespread, or well-known to students and staff, such as harassment occurring in hallways, during academic or physical education classes, during extracurricular activities, at recess, on a school bus, or through graffiti in public areas. In these cases, the obvious signs of the harassment are sufficient to put the school on notice. In other situations, the school may become aware of misconduct, triggering an investigation that could lead to the discovery of additional incidents that, taken together, may constitute a hostile environment…
When responding to harassment, a school must take immediate and appropriate action to investigate or otherwise determine what occurred…  In all cases… the inquiry should be prompt, thorough, and impartial…
 [A]school must take prompt and effective steps reasonably calculated to end the harassment, eliminate any hostile environment and its effects, and prevent the harassment from recurring. These duties are a school’s responsibility … regardless of whether a student has complained, asked the school to take action, or identified the harassment as a form of discrimination. [emphasis added] 

This is backed by a many other laws as well.  

Bullying of Disabled Students Must Be Investigated and Stopped

In 2014, the US Department of Education issued a thirteen page document condemning bullying of disabled students. Disabled students are frequent targets for bullies. In this “Dear Colleague” letter of October 21, 2014, the US Department of Education reiterated its position, and explained that potential bullying of a disabled student triggers investigation and potential educational mandates under the Americans with Disabilities Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Several great examples of school bullying problems appear in this reference.

school bullying investigation and resolution is key
Bullying can cause students to become depressed and sometimes even suicidal

California: Bullying Investigation and Resolution Mandated

California Education Code 234.1 imposes bullying investigation and resolution mandates on schools to take action and says school districts must have:
 
(a) Adopted a policy that prohibits discrimination, harassment, intimidation, and bullying
(b) Adopted a process for receiving and investigating complaints… [which] shall include
(1) …requirement that, if school personnel witness an act of discrimination, harassment, intimidation, or bullying, they shall take immediate steps to intervene when safe to do so.
 
student bullying impacts students negatively

Schools are the best places for student bullying to be discovered

(2) A timeline to investigate and resolve complaints of discrimination, harassment, intimidation, or bullying
(3) An appeal process

Punishment of the Bullied or Bully

Refusal of school staff to research and stop student bullying can eventually lead to the student who is the victim to be punished when he or she fights back, which is a tragedy at best. 
 
Codes also exist in California to punish the bully and parents may want to insist these are utilized.
 
It is impossible that student bullying on school campuses is not observed frequently by school staff. Staff are in the same area where student abuse occurs. 
 
This bullying observation triggers a school duty to investigate and help the bullied student. Unfortunately, school bullying investigations often do not occur.  In that case, the bullying may remain unknown until it is too late.