School Violence Prevention Act
and Cyberbullying

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Legal Instruction and Support for Schools

Oct. 23, 2009
                                              Law Byte
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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 behavior."
Practice Points:
  • Systems should regularly inform and train staff in this and other safety requirements, especially staff reporting obligations. (E.g., are your bus driver aware?)
  • All employees - classified, certified, part-time, substitutes, etc. - must be trained and must report bullying behavior.
  • Students 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.)  
  • School handbooks, policies, safe school plans, etc., should be updated accordingly.
  • Avoid "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 actions.) 
  • As 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
[The Act will be discussed at the Lex-IS School Law Updates on December 3 and January 14.]

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