This summer, Illinois legislators made several significant changes to the bullying prevention provisions of the School Code. In June, Public Act 98-0669 revamped the requirements for school districts’ bullying policies. Then in August, Public Act 98-0801 expanded the definition of bullying to include “cyber-bullying” and gave school districts limited jurisdiction over bullying conducted through off-campus computers or student-owned electronic devices.
Prior to the recent amendments, school districts were already required to create and implement a policy on bullying. However, effective June 26, 2014, bullying policies are subject to a host of new, more detailed criteria. Among the many new requirements are extensive procedures for promptly reporting, investigating, and addressing bullying.
For example, districts must make all reasonable efforts to investigate instances of bullying within ten days after the bullying has been reported. In addition, schools must notify the parents of students involved in an alleged bullying incident and provide them an opportunity to meet with school administrators to discuss the investigation.
The amendment also requires all bullying policies to include interventions, such as social work services, school psychological services, and “restorative measures.” Restorative measures are defined as a continuum of alternatives to exclusionary discipline (e.g., suspensions and expulsions) that balance accountability with an understanding of students’ behavioral health needs.
Policies must also prohibit retaliation for reporting bullying and include consequences for false accusations of bullying. Additionally, policies must be posted on the school district’s website, included in the student handbook, distributed annually to parents, students, and school personnel, and re-evaluated every two years. Finally, the amendment brings charter schools within the purview of the bullying prevention law, including all of the new policy requirements.
The second major amendment to the bullying law, which does not take effect until January 1, 2015, expands the definition of bullying to include “cyber-bullying.” The new law defines cyber-bullying as “bullying through the use of technology or any electronic communications” including writing, images and sounds. In addition, the amendment gives schools jurisdiction over cyber-bullying conducted through off-campus computers or student-owned electronic devices if the bullying “causes a substantial disruption to the educational process or orderly operation of a school”and such bullying is reported to school personnel. It is important to note that this new law does not require school administrators to monitor off-campus, non-school-related online activities. Rather, the law simply empowers staff to investigate and address instances of cyber-bullying that occur outside of school after such bullying has been reported.
Taken together, these changes not only increase the requirements on schools, they also expand their authority to combat bullying—particularly bullying online through electronic devices. School districts utilizing PRESS have already received a revised model policy incorporating these changes. Non-PRESS member school districts should take action to update their policies accordingly.
Contact Bennett Rodick or Emily Aleisa with your bullying inquiries.