Research & Commentary: Anti-Bullying Measures

Published December 21, 2011

All but three states have enacted anti-school-bullying legislation, 21 of them passing related laws in 2011. The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has begun studying the matter preparatory to issuing new agency regulations and recommending legislation to Congress.

Supporters of these laws point to high-profile incidents of students killing themselves over embarrassment and teasing from their peers, as justification for states and the federal government requiring schools to report such incidents, hire additional personnel, and impose punishments.

Personal liberty advocates note these laws tend to privilege certain groups at other individuals’ expense, curtail free-speech rights, and hinge on whether particular speech “offends” someone, not whether it is true, thoughtful, constructive, or actually fits legal definitions of harassment. They also note state and federal attempts to reduce bullying have consisted of costly, paperwork-intensive mandates that have not been shown to stem violence.

A better solution, they suggest, is for schools to stop assuming parents’ responsibilities, punish violence and actual harassment when it occurs, and inform parents and communities of such problems so those better suited to addressing them can do so.

The following articles offer more information about anti-bullying measures.

Asian Americans Most Bullied in U.S. Schools: Study
Forty-five percent of Asian-American students report they have been bullied or cyber-bullied, seven percentage points above every other major racial group in America, reports Agente-France Presse, citing data from a U.S. Department of Education survey of approximately 6,500 students.

New Laws Take Aim at Bullying
Twenty-one states passed anti-bullying laws in 2011, expanding definitions of bullying and including online harassment, reports Education Week. That leaves three states without such laws. The laws typically require schools to implement new programs and measures, such as in New Jersey, where every school must hire an anti-bullying coordinator. Some states require schools to investigate and respond to bullying that takes place outside of school property and hours. The Obama administration has sent schools letters saying it considers them liable for bullying and harassment episodes.

N.J. Schools’ Anti-Bullying Laws Could Be Costly in Long Run
For each incident of name-calling or worse, New Jersey schools must now file district and state paperwork, meet with the parents of all students involved, and include the infraction in a student’s file because of a new anti-bullying law, New Jersey Newsroom reports. Every public school must now designate an “anti-bullying specialist,” every district has to hire an “anti-bullying coordinator,” and the state Education Department must review, compile, and publicly post on its Web site “bullying grades” for schools.

N.J. Schools Brace for Anti-Bullying Rules’ Impact
New Jersey’s new anti-bullying law holds schools responsible for all student-student altercations school employees know about, on- or off-campus, reports Education Week. Schools and districts are frustrated by the increased reporting requirements without additional state funds to meet them. School employees who do not “sufficiently” address such incidents will face disciplinary action, likely leading to nervous “over-reporting,” an administrator noted. However, “Bullying doesn’t stop at 3 o’clock, and neither should a school’s authority,” said one of the law’s Democratic sponsors.

New ‘Cyberbullying’ Law Poses Challenges as School Year Starts
Teachers and school administrators must judge whether online comments from students constitute “harassment” or “bullying” because of a new Connecticut law, reports the Connecticut Mirror. Free-speech groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union say the law requires schools to limit speech and thought because it might hurt someone’s feelings. Legal analysts have told schools no clear precedent exists for making such judgments without trampling on students’ civil rights.

New Cyberbullying Law Forces Schools to Intervene
Under Connecticut’s new cyberbullying law, schools must investigate and document bullying complaints and report them to the state and the parents of students involved, reports the Connecticut Mirror. School districts must have a school climate coordinator on staff and establish “safe school climate committees.”

The Media and ‘Bullying’
Anti-bullying laws often create special privileges for protected classes of people in the name of civil rights, notes Thomas Sowell in National Review. Although some individuals may abuse constitutional liberties such as freedom of speech, that does not mean those rights should be taken away, Sowell says. Special-interest groups use vaguely worded speech codes and anti-bullying laws to push their interests at the expense of others’ interests and rights, he notes.

Testimony from Eugene Volokh to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
Many anti-bullying laws are so broad and vague they threaten the First Amendment rights of students, teachers, and administrators, testified law professor Eugene Volokh to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. These laws punish citizens for “inflicting emotional distress” or shaming someone, yet these are sometimes necessary social safeguards against dangerous or foolish behavior. The First Amendment protects much speech and thought some consider “offensive,” such as religious and political speech, and limiting this diminishes individual freedom and the flourishing of ideas.

The Federal Government’s Real—but Very Dangerous and Limited—Role in Confronting Bullying and Harassment
The federal government does have, and should use, authority to enforce equal protection under the law against violence and harassment, testified Neal McCluskey of the Cato Institute before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, but it has in recent years interpreted this authority so broadly as to infringe upon equal protection by favoring specific groups and types of speech. The government should eliminate laws that offer protection based on group identity and give all individuals routes to seek relief against unequal protection by school authorities, McCluskey states. The best solution, he argues, is to eliminate government schools in favor of a system where parents control education funds and have freedom to leave schools that do not suit them.

Nothing in this Research & Commentary is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and it does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute. For further information on this and other topics, visit the School Reform News Web site at, The Heartland Institute’s Web site at, and PolicyBot, Heartland’s free online research database, at

If you have any questions about this issue or The Heartland Institute, contact Heartland education policy research fellow Joy Pullmann, at 312/377-4000 or [email protected].