| LAW BYTE:
School Violence Prevention
Legal Instruction and Support for Schools
This summer the North Carolina General Assembly passed the
School Violence Prevention Act.
Its primary purpose is to protect children from real and threatened "bullying and harassing" acts, including electronic communications
("cyberbullying"). This new law
has significant supervisory and organizational implications.
Basic Protections. The Act defines "bullying or
harassing behavior" as any "pattern of gestures...any physical act or any
threatening communication that takes place on school property, at any
school-sponsored function, or on a school bus" that places a student or
employee in "actual or reasonable fear of harm to person or property" or
creates a "hostile environment" by interfering with a student's educational
performance or experience. [Note
that the Act does not apply to conduct occurring outside of the school or
at non-school functions.] It also covers,
but is not limited to, acts motivated by a broad range of "differentiating
characteristics" including race, color, religion, gender, socioeconomic status,
physical appearance, and sexual orientation.
Reporting Obligations. The Act mandates that any school
employee "who has witnessed or has reliable information that a student or
school employee has been subject" to any bullying behavior, "shall
report the incident to the appropriate school official." Students and school volunteers are
simply encouraged to report such conduct (i.e., they "should" report).
Institutional Responsibilities. The Act requires school
systems to adopt bullying policies by the end of this year that, minimally,
address the Act's requirements. It also requires that information about bullying
policies be included in staff training programs. To the extent funds are appropriated by the legislature,
systems must offer specific training by March 1, 2010 for employees having
significant contact with students.
In addition, schools must "develop and implement methods and strategies
for promoting school environments that are free of bullying or harassing
Systems should regularly inform and train staff in this and other
safety requirements, especially staff reporting obligations. (E.g., are your bus
employees - classified, certified, part-time, substitutes, etc. - must be
trained and must report bullying behavior.
should be taught to abstain from and to report bullying
acts. (They should be aware, e.g., of N.C. criminal statutes like the new
cyberstalking statute, that outlaw intentional and repeatedly harassing, intimidating,
and even "annoying" and "embarrassing" electronic communications.)
handbooks, policies, safe school plans, etc.,
should be updated accordingly.
"hyper-implementation." Be careful
not to discipline students who express opinions or ideas that may seem harassing or offensive to some but which are
protected by First Amendment free speech protections. (The Act expressly prohibits such
always, be deliberate and careful in implementing this law. If unsure how to classify an action or
how to address it, consult with supervisors, policies, and/or your school
attorney, as necessary.
View the full text of The School Violence Prevention Act.
will be discussed at the Lex-IS School Law Updates on December 3 and January 14.]
|ABOUT US: Lex-IS Services provides legal counsel and consulting for North Carolina schools and school officials, retainer plans, local workshops and academies, policy and document preparation, and other support services to help school leaders strategically comply with the law.
DISCLAIMER: This publication is for information purposes only. It is not intended as legal advice. When addressing actual legal issues, readers are encouraged to seek formal legal counsel, due to the fact that unique circumstances require carefully tailored legal analysis.
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