OLR Bill Analysis
sSB 1138 (File 427, as amended by Senate "A")*
AN ACT CONCERNING THE STRENGTHENING OF SCHOOL BULLYING LAWS.
This bill expands the types of conduct that constitute school bullying and the situations where it can occur. It expressly identifies as bullying (1) any targeting of a student based on the student's actual or perceived “differentiating” characteristics, such as race, gender, sexual orientation, or physical appearance and (2) actions taken through electronic communications or devices that otherwise qualify as bullying and are known collectively as “cyberbullying. ”
The bill (1) makes the school principal responsible for investigating or designating someone to investigate and address bullying whether it occurs in or out-of-school, if it affects the school or students in the school or school district and (2) requires all school employees, not just teachers and administrators, to report bullying incidents they see or that are reported to them to the principal or his or her designee.
It requires schools and school districts to adopt safe school climate plans, rather than policies, to address bullying. It adds to the requirements for such plans that they, among other things, (1) establish deadlines for reporting, investigating, and notifying parents and guardians about bullying incidents; (2) prohibit retaliation against those who report bullying; and (3) require school officials to notify police when they believe bullying conduct constitutes a crime.
The bill requires certified and noncertified employees working in public schools to receive annual training in how to identify, intervene, and prevent bullying and youth suicide among students. It also requires beginning teachers and teacher candidates to complete training on these topics. It grants immunity to school boards, school employees, students, parents, and others against damage claims arising from good faith reports of bullying and responses to bullying in accordance with a district's safe school climate plan.
The bill requires:
1. each school to carry out a biennial assessment of its school climate, using instruments disseminated by the State Department of Education (SDE);
2. school superintendents and principals to designate staff members and school committees to be responsible for school climate and responses to bullying in each school and district; and
3. SDE to establish a statewide network to provide resources, materials, and training on school bullying to school districts in the state.
*Senate Amendment “A”:
1. requires that, to constitute bullying, physical acts and gestures, as well as communications, must, in addition to having one or more of the effects specified in the bill, be repeated;
2. makes it clear that only students may make anonymous reports of bullying to school employees;
3. requires a school principal or other school official to complete an investigation of a bullying report promptly, rather than within 10 school days after receiving it;
4. eliminates a requirement that the school officials hold a meeting with the parents of the student who engaged in bullying and those of the target of the bullying within 10 days after completing their investigation;
5. requires school district safe school climate plans to direct schools to develop school safety support plans for students who are targets of bullying to address how the school will protect them from further bullying;
6. eliminates a requirement that safe school climate plans prohibit the continuation of bullying through further dissemination of hurtful or demeaning material about a student;
7. includes youth suicide prevention and response in the required annual training on bullying for certified and uncertified public school employees and in the teacher education and mentoring program that new teachers must complete;
8. clarifies the bill's grant of immunity against damage claims arising from implementing safe school climate plans for school employees who report or investigate and parents and students who report bullying and extends the immunity to local and regional school boards;
9. requires SDE to approve, rather than create, school climate assessment instruments;
10. specifies that it is the school principal who establishes or designates the required safe school climate committee in each school;
11. eliminates the requirement that the safe school climate resource network collect and analyze school district bullying data;
12. eliminates the requirement that SDE designate an annual Safe School Climate Awareness Day; and
13. makes conforming and technical changes.
EFFECTIVE DATE: July 1, 2011
Under current law, bullying consists of overt acts by one or more students that are (1) directed at another student; (2) intended to ridicule, humiliate, or intimidate; and (3) repeated more than once against any student during the school year.
The bill expands the definition to cover (1) written, oral, and electronic communications and (2) physical acts and gestures by a student or a group of students that are repeatedly directed against another student that:
1. cause the student physical or emotional harm or damages his or her property,
2. put the student in reasonable fear of harm or property damage,
3. create a hostile school environment for the student,
4. infringe on the student's rights at school, or
5. substantially disrupt the education process or a school's orderly operation.
The bill defines a hostile environment as one in which bullying among students is so severe or pervasive that it alters the school's climate. It also specifies that the student against whom the bullying is directed must be attending school in the same district as the students engaged in the bullying.
Bullying Based on Differentiating Characteristics
In defining bullying, the bill explicitly includes conduct targeting a student's actual or perceived possession of, or association with others possessing or perceived as possessing, any differentiating characteristic based on race; color; religion; ancestry; national origin; gender; sexual orientation; gender identity or expression; socioeconomic or academic status; physical appearance; or mental, physical, developmental, or sensory disability.
The bill expands bullying to include cyberbullying, which it defines as acts of bullying carried out through mobile electronic devices or other electronic communications, the Internet, interactive and digital technologies, or cell phones.
Under the bill, an electronic communication is any transfer of signs, signals, writing, sound, pictures, data, or other intelligence wholly or partly by wire, radio, electromagnetic, photoelectronic, or photo-optical system. A mobile electronic device is any portable device that can send data between or among users. Examples include text messaging and paging devices, personal digital assistants, laptops, video gaming devices, digital video disk players, and digital cameras.
The bill expands the responsibilities of school employees other than teachers and school administrators to respond to school bullying incidents. It also requires annual training for all school employees.
Under the bill, a school employee is anyone who is (1) employed by a local or regional board of education or works in a public school as a teacher, substitute teacher, school administrator, school superintendent, guidance counselor, psychologist, social worker, nurse, physician, school paraprofessional, or coach or (2) any person who, under a contract with the school board, provides services to or on behalf of students in a public school and whose duties involve regular student contact.
SCHOOL DISTRICT SAFE SCHOOL CLIMATE PLANS
Current law requires each local and regional board of education to develop and implement a policy to address bullying in its schools. The bill adds several required elements and redesignates the required policies as “safe school climate plans. ”
The bill requires district plans to prohibit bullying both in and outside of school. Schools must address bullying taking place (1) at a school-sponsored or school-related activity either on or off school grounds; (2) at a school bus stop; (3) on a school bus or any other vehicle the school board owns, leases, or uses; or (4) through an electronic device the school board owns, leases, or uses. Schools must also address bullying that occurs outside these locations if: (1) it creates a hostile environment for a student at school, (2) infringes on a student's rights at school, or (3) substantially disrupts the education process or the school's orderly operation.
Under current law, school bullying policies may, but are not required to, address bullying outside of school only if it has a direct, negative effect on a student's academic performance or safety at school.
Reports, Investigations, and Meeting with Parents
District plans must establish certain deadlines for filing reports of, investigating, and holding meetings with involved parents regarding bullying incidents and notifying them of actions taken to prevent further incidents. The bill eliminates a requirement that a school district's bullying policy identify appropriate school personnel responsible for taking and investigating reports of bullying. Instead, it assigns the responsibility for these duties to a safe school climate specialist in the school, who must be either the school's principal or his or her designee (see below).
Under current law, school district policies must enable students to report bullying incidents anonymously to teachers and school administrators and to be notified every year of the process for making the reports. The bill requires plans to (1) enable students to make such reports to any school employee and (2) require students' parents and guardians, as well as the students themselves, to be notified every year of the process by which students may make such reports.
The bill requires a school employee who witnesses bullying or receives a report of bullying to notify either the school climate specialist or, if that person is not available, another school administrator, orally within one school day. The employee must follow up with a written report within two school days after providing oral notice. Under current law, the notice to the school administrator must be in writing and there is no deadline for sending it.
The bill requires the specialist, rather than any school administrator, to investigate, or supervise an investigation of, the report. After the specialist receives the written report, he or she must complete the investigation promptly. The specialist must also review any anonymous reports.
As under current law, the school must (1) notify both the parents of a student who commits a verified act of bullying and those of the target of the activity and (2) invite them to a meeting. The bill requires the school to notify parents within 48 hours after completing the investigation. Under current law, the notice to parents must describe the school's response to the incident and the consequence for further bullying. The bill requires this information to also be included in the meeting invitation. At the meeting, the bill requires the school to describe to the parents the measures it is taking to ensure the targeted student's safety and prevent further bullying.
Other Plan Requirements
The bill also requires the district plan to:
1. prohibit retaliation or discrimination against those who report or help investigate bullying,
2. develop plans addressing what the school will do to protect the targeted student from further bullying, and
3. require a school principal or his or her designee to notify the police when they suspect that an act of bullying constitutes a crime.
In addition to existing requirements for each school to maintain a publicly available list of the number of verified bullying incidents, the bill requires district plans to establish procedures for schools to document and maintain records of bullying investigations. The bill continues to require schools to report annually to the SDE the number of verified bullying incidents at the school, but eliminates the proviso that it be done within available appropriations.
Adoption, Posting, and Submission to SDE
The bill requires school boards to approve their plans by January 1, 2012, and submit them to SDE. It also requires school boards, within 30 calendar days after adopting their plans, to post them on the board's and each school's website.
Boards must also provide all school employees with a written or electronic copy of the plan at the start of each school year.
TRAINING REQUIREMENTS FOR TEACHERS AND OTHER SCHOOL EMPLOYEES
The bill requires all school employees, not just those who are certified, to complete annual training on (1) identifying, preventing, and responding to school bullying and (2) preventing and responding to youth suicide. It also requires beginning teachers and those participating in teacher preparation programs to receive such training.
In-Service Training for Certified Employees
Under current law, school districts must offer their certified employees in-service training on the prevention of bullying. The bill expands the scope of this training to include identifying and responding to bullying and preventing and responding to youth suicide.
Under current law, districts are not required to offer in-service training regarding bullying or youth suicide if they implement an evidence-based model approach to the problems. The bill preserves the existing exception, but only if the model approach is approved by SDE.
Training for Noncertified School Employees
The bill requires SDE, within available appropriations, to provide annual training to noncertified school employees. The training may include (1) developmentally appropriate methods to prevent and effectively intervene to stop bullying; (2) information about the relationship and interaction among bullies, targets, and witnesses; (3) research findings, including types of students who are at-risk of being bullied in school; (4) information about cyberbullying; (5) Internet safety; or (6) information on the incidence of youth suicide, how to identify at-risk students, and strategies for intervening to prevent it.
Required training can be presented in various ways, including in person via mentors, online, or through statewide workshops.
Training for Beginning Teachers
By law, teachers holding initial (first-level) certificates must complete a two-year Teacher Education and Mentoring (TEAM) program that requires them to complete five training modules, one of which deals with classroom management and climate. The bill requires that module to include training in preventing, identifying, and responding to school bullying and preventing and responding to youth suicide.
Teacher Preparation Programs
The bill requires, rather than encourages, teacher candidates to complete a component on school violence, bullying, suicide prevention, and conflict resolution as part of their teacher preparation program.
IMMUNITY FOR SCHOOL EMPLOYEES, BOARDS OF EDUCATION, AND OTHERS
The bill bars damage claims against school employees who, in accordance with a school district safe school climate plan, report, investigate, or respond to bullying.
The bill extends the same protection to:
1. a local or regional board of education that implements a safe school climate plan and reports, investigates, or responds to bullying and
2. reports of bullying incidents by parents, students, and others to a school employee according to a safe school climate plan.
To be immune, these parties must act in good faith and, in the case of a school employee or board of education, within the scope of their duties. The immunity does not cover gross, wanton, reckless, or willful misconduct.
By law, school boards must already indemnify their members, teachers, school employees, and certain volunteers against financial loss and expense resulting from damage claims for actions taken in the course of their duties that are not wanton, reckless, or malicious. Indemnification, unlike immunity, still allows a claim to proceed.
SCHOOL CLIMATE ASSESSMENTS
Every two years, starting July 1, 2012, the bill requires each school to assess its school climate using assessment instruments, including surveys, approved and disseminated by SDE in collaboration with the Connecticut Association of Schools. Under the bill, “school climate” encompasses the character of an entire school and the quality of the relationships among and between its students and adults.
Districts must collect and report the school assessments to SDE. SDE must use the assessments to monitor bullying prevention efforts over time and compare districts' efforts to statewide trends.
Under current law, SDE had to report to the Education and Children's committees by February 1, 2010, on its school climate improvement and anti-bullying efforts and recommend additional activities and funding to enhance them. The bill makes the report biennial and adds a requirement that it include the number of verified acts of bullying in the state and an analysis of school district responses. It eliminates requirements that SDE analyze school districts' bullying policies and examine the relationship between bullying, school climate, and student outcomes.
SAFE SCHOOL CLIMATE COORDINATORS, SPECIALISTS, AND COMMITTEES
The bill establishes a hierarchy of people within schools and school districts and makes them responsible for developing and implementing the safe school climate plans, biennial school climate assessments, and the bill's reporting requirements.
Safe School Climate Coordinator
Starting with the 2012-13 school year, the bill requires each school superintendent to appoint a safe school climate coordinator from existing school staff. The coordinator must:
1. implement the safe school climate plan;
2. collaborate with safe school climate specialists (see below), the school board, and the school superintendent to prevent, identify, and respond to bullying in district schools;
3. in collaboration with the superintendent, provide data and information derived from the safe school climate assessments to SDE; and
4. meet with the school specialists at least twice during the school year to discuss bullying issues in the district and recommend changes in the district's plan.
Safe School Climate Specialist
Starting with the 2012-13 school year, the bill requires each school principal to serve, or designate someone to serve, as the safe school climate specialist for the school. Specialists must (1) investigate bullying reports according to the district's safe school climate plan; (2) collect and maintain records of the school's bullying reports and investigations; and (3) be the primary person responsible for preventing, identifying, and responding to bullying reports in the school.
Safe School Climate Committee
Starting with the 2012-13 school year, the bill requires each school principal to establish or designate at least one new or existing committee to be responsible for fostering a safe school climate and addressing school bullying. The committee must include at least one parent of a school student, appointed by the principal.
The committee must:
1. receive copies of completed bullying investigation reports;
2. identify and address bullying patterns;
3. review and amend school bullying policies;
4. review the district plan and make recommendations to the district coordinator based on issues at the school;
5. educate students, parents, and others about bullying;
6. collaborate with the district coordinator to collect data on bullying; and
7. perform other related duties as the principal determines.
The bill excludes parent members from the first two activities and from any other committee activities that may compromise student confidentiality.
STATEWIDE SAFE SCHOOL CLIMATE RESOURCE NETWORK
The bill requires SDE to consult with the State Education Resource Center, the Governor's Prevention Partnership, and the Commission on Children to establish a statewide safe school resource network for identifying, preventing, and educating people about school bullying in Connecticut. The network must make resources, information, and training materials available to schools to improve their climate and reduce bullying. SDE must establish the network within available appropriations and may seek state, municipal, and federal funds and accept private funds to administer the network.
ALLOWABLE BULLYING PREVENTION STRATEGIES
The bill adds student peer training, education, and support to the existing prevention and intervention strategies districts may use to address bullying. It also eliminates school surveys and establishment of bullying prevention teams from these optional strategies.
sHB 6053 (File 479), reported favorably by the Human Services Committee, makes acts of dating violence between students a form of school bullying.
Joint Favorable Substitute