Ohio’s public schools are required to enact policies that prohibit student harassment, intimidation and bullying. The law defines “harassment, intimidation and bullying” to be any intentional written, verbal, electronic or physical act that one student has taken against another student more than one time that resulted in either physical or mental harm. The bullying must also be sufficiently severe, persistent or pervasive, to create an environment that is threatening, intimidating or abusive for the victim.
Q: What must school districts do to address bullying?
A: All districts must consult with employees, students, parents and community members to establish policies prohibiting harassment, intimidation and bullying. The policies must include:
• a statement prohibiting bullying on school property, on a school bus or at school-sponsored events;
• a statement expressly providing for the possibility of suspension of a student found responsible for harassment, intimidation or bullying by an electronic act;
• a procedure to report bullying;
• a requirement that school employees and volunteers report bullying to the school principal;
• a procedure for documenting and responding to incidents of bullying;
• a requirement that parents of students involved in bullying be notified of any incidents and given copies of any written reports;
• a discipline procedure for a student guilty of bullying another;
• a statement prohibiting students from deliberately making false reports of harassment, intimidation or bullying, and a disciplinary procedure for any student responsible for deliberately making a false report of that nature; and
• a strategy for protecting a victim from additional bullying or retaliation for reporting it.
Also, schools must report any bullying incidents on their websites at least two times a year.
Q: Does bullying have to include physical harm?
A: No. Bullying or harassment can take many different forms and can include physical contact, verbal comments, written statements or electronic acts. By law, schools must include both physical and mental harm in its policy against bullying. Remember that bullying does not necessarily involve physical contact. It may, for example, include leaving abusive notes on a student’s desk or posting harmful content on social media websites.
Q: My son has been the target of bullies on the playground at school. What should I do?
A: Schools must publish their policies in the student handbook, so review your son’s handbook and read the policy carefully. Report the incident by calling the school principal and documenting it in writing through a letter or email. Keep records of your contact and follow up to ensure that the policy is implemented appropriately. Ask the school to inform you of the steps taken to prevent future problems.
Q: The school refuses to tell me if my daughter’s bully was suspended and I want to know whether I should be worried about her going to school. Don’t they have to tell me?
A: Due to student privacy rights, the school need not tell you what discipline procedures were implemented against the student accused of bullying, but the school should share with you its strategy for protecting your daughter in the future. For example, although the school may not tell you if the other student was suspended, you should be able to find out if the children will be separated, either temporarily or permanently, and what other measures will be taken to ensure your daughter’s safety.
Q: I received a phone call from my son’s school explaining that he was being accused of posting negative comments about peers on a social media page while in study hall. What should I do?
A: If school officials think student conduct may constitute “harassment or bullying,” they must follow the district’s procedures and investigate the claim. Review the district’s bullying policy and your son’s disciplinary rights carefully. If it appears that your son may have been involved in bullying other students, seek help. Ask your pediatrician and the school for help or referrals to anti-bullying programs. Watch how your son interacts with other students and talk to him about his school experiences and being a respectful member of the school community. Model appropriate ways to deal with peer-related pressures and refrain from directing offensive language at others.
Q: My daughter has been bullied by the same group of girls for more than two years. We’ve tried reporting it and nothing seems to be changing. What do I do now?
A: Continue to report the conduct to the school in writing. If the principal’s response has been poor or the school has not solved the problem, try contacting the school superintendent or a board member. Review your documentation with the superintendent and discuss alternative strategies to guarantee your daughter’s safety. Consider asking the school to sponsor an anti-bullying program or consult with a behavior consultant. You can also contact the Ohio Department of Education’s Office for Safety, Health and Nutrition, Safe and Supportive Learning for more bullying prevention resources. Finally, if the problem persists and you are concerned for the physical safety or mental health of your child, you should consult with an attorney or contact public safety officials.
This “Law You Can Use” column was provided by the Ohio State Bar Association (OSBA). It was prepared by attorney Kerry M. Agins, a partner in the Cleveland firm, Siegel & Agins Co., LPA.