April 22, 2014
Do new state laws adequately address bullying?

State legislators have reacted to a recent spike in bullying lawsuits and student suicides by proposing new requirements for schools and stricter punishment for perpetrators. However, questions remain about how to properly identify and punish bullying, and authorities have pushed for an updated, universal definition. Critics say some antibullying laws impose overly strict punishments and carry language that unfairly favors certain groups of students based on factors such as race, sexual identity and religion. Antibullying advocates say many of the laws do not provide for adequate funding for requirements imposed on school districts. Outside the classroom, highly publicized bullying cases in the National Football League and the military have drawn attention to the issue of workplace bullying.

Professional football player Jonathan Martin practices at the Miami Dolphins training facility on July 20, 2013. (Getty Images/Sports Imagery/Ron Elkman)   Professional football player Jonathan Martin practices at the Miami Dolphins training facility on July 20, 2013. Martin alleged that he was bullied by teammate Richie Incognito and other Dolphins, triggering an investigation commissioned by the National Football League. (Getty Images/Sports Imagery/Ron Elkman)

A series of high-profile workplace bullying incidents in the NFL and the military, as well as student suicides, including the September 2013 death of 12-year-old Florida student Rebecca Ann Sedwick, have sparked a wave of new antibullying legislation, lawsuits and policy debates.

All U.S. states except Montana require schools to protect students from bullying by implementing antibullying education programs and tracking and reporting individual incidents. 1 Opponents of the laws, including some school administrators, worry that broader state supervision and detailed reporting requirements threaten the ability of schools to handle bullying incidents internally, while legislation advocates remain concerned that the laws may be underfunded.