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What is Bullying?
The definition below is used for bullying prevention and intervention programming in schools. This definition guides efforts to educate all constituents with common language around bullying.
Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time.
In order to be considered bullying, the behavior must be aggressive and include:
- An Imbalance of Power: Kids who bully use their power—such as physical strength, access to embarrassing information, or popularity—to control or harm others. Power imbalances can change over time and in different situations, even if they involve the same people.
- Repetition: Bullying behaviors happen more than once or have the potential to happen more than once.
Bullying includes actions such as making threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone physically or verbally, and excluding someone from a group on purpose. - 2014 US Department of Education office of Safe Schools
In his writings, Dr. Dan Olweus, creator of the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, is very clear that bullying is peer abuse that should not be tolerated.
Types of Bullying – Taken from www.stopbullying.gov
Verbal - speaking or writing mean things.
- Inappropriate sexual comments
- Threatening to cause harm
Social bullying (Relational bullying) - hurting someone’s reputation or relationships
- Leaving someone out on purpose
- Telling other children not to be friends with someone
- Spreading rumors about someone
- Embarrassing someone in public
Physical bullying - hurting a person’s body or possessions
- Taking or breaking someone’s things
- Making mean or rude hand gestures
Bullying Defined in Iowa Law
Harassment and bullying are defined in Iowa Code section 280.28 as: Any electronic, written, verbal, or physical act or conduct toward a student which is based on any actual or perceived trait or characteristic of the student and which creates an objectively hostile school environment that meets one or more of the following conditions:
- Places the student in reasonable fear of harm to the student's person or property
- Has a substantially detrimental effect on the student's physical or mental health
- Has the effect of substantially interfering with a student's academic performance
- Has the effect of substantially interfering with the student's ability to participate in or benefit from the services, activities, or privileges provided by a school
"Trait or characteristic of the student" includes but is not limited to age, color, creed, national origin, race, religion, marital status, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, physical attributes, physical or mental ability or disability, ancestry, political party preference, political belief, socioeconomic status, or familial status.
Bullying is Not
Conflict is not Bullying. A conflict is a disagreement or antagonism between two or more people. All parties involved have some responsibility for the encounter. It is not bullying when two or more kids with no perceived power imbalance, fight, have an argument or disagree. Conflict resolution strategies can be employed to find common ground when both parties have a vested interested in resolving the conflict. Peer mediation may be appropriate in conflict situations. Bullying is peer abuse and needs to be reported and treated as such. Peer mediation is not appropriate in bullying.
The difficulty here is to know when a situation is conflict and when it can be relational bullying or social bullying. Relational bullying does occur within social groups of “friends.” It is critical for educators to be careful to seek to understand when “friend” behaviors that might have been conflicts turn into bullying. Be careful to:
- Understand the characteristics of relational bullying
- Educate all staff, students and parents about relational bullying
- Make sure you are addressing social and emotional development for all students
- When bullying is reported NEVER bring those involved together for the interview, do not intervene and treat the report as a conflict without first investigating and assuring bullying is not occurring
What works in Addressing Bullying?
The following activities from the Violence Prevention Works website can help teachers build and sustain a safe, secure classroom environment:
- Develop, post, and discuss rules and sanctions related to bullying.
- Treat students and each other with warmth and respect. Demonstrate positive interest and involvement in your students.
- Establish yourself as a clear and visible authority with responsibility for making the school experience safe and positive.
- Reward students for positive, inclusive behavior.
- Take immediate action when bullying is observed and consistently use nonphysical, non-hostile negative consequences when rules are broken.
- Listen to parents and students who report bullying in your classroom. Quickly and effectively resolve the issue to avoid perpetuation of bullying behaviors.
- Notify parents of all involved students when a bullying incident occurs, and resolve the problem expeditiously, according to discipline plans at school.
- Refer students affected by bullying to school counseling or mental health staff, if needed.
- Protect students who are bullied with a safety plan.
- Hold class meetings during which students can talk about bullying and peer relations.
- Provide information to parents about bullying behaviors and encourage their involvement and support in addressing bullying issues.
Parents and Families
Parents and families play a central role to preventing bullying and stopping it when it happens. The following list from National Crime Prevention Council website are a few things parents and families can do:
- Teach kids to solve problems without using violence and praise them when they do.
- Give children positive feedback when they behave well to help their build self-esteem. Help give them the self-confidence to stand up for what they believe in.
- Ask your children about their day and listen to them talk about school, social events, their classmates, and any problems they have.
- Take bullying seriously. Many kids are embarrassed to say they have been bullied. You may only have one chance to step in and help.
- If you see any bullying, stop it right away, even if your child is the one doing the bullying.
- Encourage your child to help others who need it.
- Don't bully your children or bully others in front of them. Many times kids who are bullied at home react by bullying other kids. If your children see you hit, ridicule, or gossip about someone else, they are also more likely to do so themselves.
- Support bully prevention programs in your child's school. If your school doesn't have one, consider starting one with other parents, teachers, and concerned adults.
Help your child deal with bullying by talking to teachers, administrators, and staff. The following PDF files give more information:
- How to talk with educators at your child's school about bullying - Get advice on how to communicate with teachers and other leaders at your child's school if you're dealing with bullying.
- Tips for parents: What to do if your child is being bullied - Get tips for supporting your child through this very painful experience.
- Tips for parents: What to do if your child bullies others - If your child bullies others at school, it needs to stop. Find out what you can do at home.
- Tips for parents: What to do if your child witnesses bullying - Empower your child to take positive action in bullying situations and help prevent further bullying.
- What can parents do to prevent and address cyber-bullying? - Protect your child from indirect forms of bullying that use text messaging, websites, and cell phones.
- Advocate for a bullying prevention program at your school - You can play a very important role in advocating for a bullying prevention program at your child's school.
Reporting Bullying to Schools - Assistance for Parents/Families
When bullying occurs, contact the school immediately and join with the district in gathering information and conducting an inquiry and or investigation to assure any bullying is stopped. Here are some resources that parents may find helpful in this effort.
- Guidelines for Parents in Reporting Bullying
- Worksheet for Parents in Reporting Bullying
- Parent Checklist in Reporting Bullying
- Types of Bullying
- Support for Bullying Issues: Websites for Parents
- Safety Plan When Bullying is Reported
- Safety Plan When Bullying is Confirmed
School administrators have the opportunity to address school bullying on all levels of a student's experience. By leading school or district in bullying prevention efforts, administrators can help create a safer, more positive learning environment. The following is a list of Ten Tips for Administrators to Address Bullying in School is from the Violence Prevention Works website:
- Focus on the social environment of the school.
- Assess bullying at your school.
- Garner staff and parent support for bullying prevention.
- Form a group to coordinate the school's bullying prevention activities.
- Train your staff in bullying prevention.
- Establish and enforce school rules and policies related to bullying.
- Increase adult supervision in hot spots where bullying occurs.
- Intervene consistently and appropriately in bullying situations.
- Focus some class time on bullying prevention.
- Continue these efforts over time.
What does not work in addressing Bullying?
|Misdirection||Why it’s not recommended|
|Conflict Resolution and Peer Mediation||
|Group Therapeutic Treatment||
|Overstating or simplifying the relationship between bullying and suicide||Using words like bullycide or bullied to death, or reading books/viewing videos that depict suicides by bullied students are not recommended because:
|Simple, short-term solutions||
Iowa is committed to providing all students with a safe and civil school environment in which all members of the school community are treated with dignity and respect. Toward this end, the Iowa General Assembly passed Iowa Code section 280.28 requiring all school boards, public and accredited non-public schools to have an anti-bullying/anti-harassment policy adopted on or before September 1, 2007.
Iowa Code section 280.28 defines bullying and harassment as any electronic, written, verbal, or physical act or conduct toward a student which is based on any actual or perceived trait or characteristic of the student and which creates an objectively hostile school environment that meets one or more of the following conditions:
- Places the student in reasonable fear of harm to the student’s person or property.
- Has a substantially detrimental effect on the student’s physical or mental health.
- Has the effect of substantially interfering with a student’s academic performance.
- Has the effect of substantially interfering with the student’s ability to participate in or benefit from the services, activities, or privileges provided by a school.
There are 17 protected traits or characteristic in the Law. “Trait or characteristic of the student” includes but is not limited to age, color, creed, national origin, race, religion, marital status, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, physical attributes, physical or mental ability or disability, ancestry, political party preference, political belief, socioeconomic status, or familial status.
Professional Development Resources
Bullying Checklist - District (6-28-21) - Document designed to assist schools in meeting their obligation to respond to bullying allegations in a prompt, thorough, and effective manner.
Bullying and Harassment Investigation Training for Schools - A module located on the AEA PD Online Learning System was created by the Department and Iowa Safe Schools Academy to provide guidance on investigating bullying and harassment incidents in schools. Users must be registered within the AEA PD Online System to see the module.
Sample Policy, Forms and Investigation Procedures - The following resources were developed by the Department and the Iowa Association of School Boards:
- Anti-Bullying/Harassment Sample Policy - This sample policy addresses the requirements of legislation. It is recommended that school districts consult their legal counsel when developing local policies.
- Anti-Bullying/Harassment Complaint Form
- Anti-Bullying/Harassment Witness Disclosure Form
- Anti-Bullying/Harassment Investigation Procedures
- Anti-Bullying/Harassment Disposition of Complaint Form
Federal Dear Colleague Letters regarding Bulling and Harassment
- 2014-10-21 DCL Bullying of Students with Disabilities
- 2013-08-20 DCL: Bullying and FAPE
- 2013-04-24 DCL: Retaliation Claims
- 2011-04-04 DCL: Sexual Violence
- 2010-10-26 DCL: Harassment and Bullying
All incidents found to be a violation of Iowa’s anti-bullying/harassment law should be reported. The criteria for Iowa's anti-bullying/harassment law are as follows:
- Conduct placed the student in reasonable fear of harm to the student's person or property
- Conduct had a substantially detrimental effect on the student's physical or mental health
- Conduct had the effect of substantially interfering with the student's academic performance
- Conduct had the effect of substantially interfering with the student's ability to participate in or benefit from services, activities, or privileges provided by a school
An incident meeting one or more of the above criteria is a violation of the law.
Accredited public and nonpublic schools are required to submit these data to the Department.
Bullying and harassment data are collected at the district level through spring BEDS. Public districts and nonpublic schools are required to submit total counts for each data element for incident found to have been a violation of the law.
AEA Support Network
Iowa AEAs and some school districts have Trained Specialists in bullying prevention and intervention. Each staff member listed here has been trained in the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program (pronounced Ol-VAY-us). Olweus is a comprehensive approach that includes schoolwide, classroom, individual, and community components. The program is focused on long-term change that creates a safe and positive school climate. It is designed and evaluated for use in elementary, middle, junior high and high schools (K-12). The program’s goals are to reduce and prevent bullying problems among schoolchildren and to improve peer relations at school.
The Olweus Bullying Prevention Program has been proven to significantly reduce student reports of being bullied and bullying others. Results have also shown marked reductions in student reports of general antisocial behavior such as vandalism, fighting, theft and truancy; and clear improvements in the classroom social climate, as reflected in students' reports of improved order and discipline, more positive social relationships, and more positive attitudes toward schoolwork and school. Olweus Programming materials and resources available through Violence Prevention Works.
Today the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program is being used in over 6,000 schools nationwide and 700 individuals are trained to implement the program. Training is developed and conducted by the Institute for Family and Neighborhood Life at Clemson University, Clemson, SC.
Olweus Bullying Prevention and Common Core
- OBPP and Common Core - Elementary School - aligned with the 2009 and 2014 Cyberbullying Curriculum
- OBPP and Common Core - Middle School - aligned with 2008 Cyberbullying Curriculum
- OBPP and Common Core - Middle School aligned with new 2014 Cyberbullying Curriculum
- OBPP and Common Core - High School - aligned with 2008 Cyberbullying Curriculum
- OBPP and Common Core - High School - aligned with new 2014 Cyberbullying Curriculum
Bullying/Harassment Video and Resources - Videos and resources on best practices in bullying prevention.
StopBullying.gov - The official U.S. Government website for information regarding Bullying is managed by the Department of Health and Human Services in partnership with the Iowa Department of Education and Department of Justice.
Cyberbullying: Doing Something about It, Lawfully - This document addresses the legal aspects of cyberbullying. The document addresses when a school may discipline the cyberbully. More importantly, the document discusses steps that must be taken by school officials even in situations where the school cannot lawfully punish the cyberbully.
Best Practices in Bullying Prevention Programs - A guide developed for you with ten components and further descriptors to help you evaluate any bullying prevention programs you might consider.
The Relationship Between Bullying and Suicide: What We Know and What it Means for Schools - This document, published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, shares information the relationship between bullying and suicide with the goal of using this knowledge to save lives and prevent future bullying.
Program Selection Guidelines - As schools begin to implement their policies and practices with regard to anti-bullying and harassment issues, the Iowa Department of Education's document provides an excerpt from "Preventing Bullying Policy." These excerpts are intended as a starting point to sort those programs that hold the greatest potential for success from those that have the best marketing strategy. It is titled: Program Selection Guidelines.
Analyzing Existing Bullying Behaviors
The Olweus program includes the administration and follow-up of a data tool called the BVQ. (Bully, Victim Questionnaire) Questions on the Iowa Youth Survey regarding bullying and harassment are closely aligned with the BVQ. See your AEA Olweus Trainer for more information regarding the BVQ.
A Parents' Guide to Facebook - Designed to teach parents how to help their teens strengthen their privacy and safety on Facebook, the guide features important topics such as risks involved in social networking, how to parent Facebook users, managing reputation in the digital age, managing your privacy on Facebook, reporting problems and more. The guidebook is published in partnership with the iKeepSafe Coalition.
Preventing Child and Youth Sexual Violence: A Resource for Iowa Families - The term "sexual violence" is used to describe violence against someone that is sexual in nature. It may include behaviors that are physical, verbal, or visual. There are three different types of sexual violence described in this document, sexual harassment, sexual abuse, and sexual assault. This document provides general information and resources to help parents and families understand, recognize, and respond to sexual violence of their child or youth. Resources are organized into groups to ensure age appropriateness.
Athletic Eligibility Guidance
Athletic Eligibility of Students Open Enrolling due to Bullying and Harassment
On April 7, 2016 House File 2264 signed into law by Governor Branstad allows the following exception to ninety day ineligibility for participation in athletic competitions for students open enrolling:
“… if the district of residence determines that the pupil was previously subject to a founded incident of harassment or bullying as defined in section 280.28 while attending school in the district of residence.”
This means any student will be immediately eligible for varsity athletic competitions if the resident district has determined that the student exercising open enrollment was subject to a founded incident of harassment or bullying as defined by Iowa Code section 280.28.