By Marla B. Matthews
By Marla B. Matthews
HB1523, an act revising the Pupil Safety and Violence Prevention Act, has been adopted by the New Hampshire House of Representatives with amendment. If HB1523, commonly referred to as the “Bullying Bill,” is enacted into law, it will require immediate and comprehensive action on the part of local school boards and school districts
HB1523 requires the school board of each school district to adopt a written policy prohibiting bullying, harassment, intimidation and cyberbullying. Because of the way the bill is drafted, school districts will have to look at the issue of bullying broadly when developing their policies. HB1523 defines “bullying, harassment or intimidation” to include any act which is intended to:
“Cyberbullying” includes any of the above actions when such actions are undertaken through the use of electronic devices, including cell phones, email, text messaging and websites. The cyberbullying definition could include Facebook bullying incidents similar to those that have been in the news recently. It is also important to encourage children to take action themselves in the fight against this crime, for example they could save the offensive instagram stories of others so that they could be used as evidence in cases against them. Team this with a proactive policy from the school and there will be a much better chance of being able to stamp out this harmful behaviour. Importantly, bullying, harassment, intimidation or cyberbullying may include a single incident as well as a pattern of conduct. Under HB1523, bullying activities may take place on school grounds, at a school-sponsored event or outside of school if the conduct that occurs outside of school substantially disrupts orderly school operations.
The Bullying Bill sets forth a number of components that must be included in the school district’s written policy. For example, the policy must include a procedure for reporting cases of bullying, harassment, intimidation or cyberbullying. The policy must also include procedures for the investigation of reports. Investigations of bullying, harassment, intimidation or cyberbullying must be initiated within five school days of a reported incident. In addition, the policy must detail how the district will respond to substantiated incidents of bullying, harassment, intimidation or cyberbullying. The policy should explain when discipline will be imposed, as well as when and how assistance will be offered to the victim or perpetrator.
HB1523 also requires school districts to provide training on preventing, identifying and responding to incidents of bullying, harassment, intimidation or cyberbullying. The training must be provided to school employees, volunteers, parents, and employees of any company under contract with a school who will have significant contact with students. The initial training must take place within six months of the effective date of the bill, with annual training thereafter. In order to comply with the bill, school districts must also provide an educational program for students and parents related to bullying issues.
Although the bill does not include penalties for failure to comply with its requirements, evidence of a school district’s failure to comply could be used against it in a subsequent lawsuit.
HB1523 has been adopted by the House and is likely to be adopted by the Senate. If it is signed into law by Governor Lynch, it is likely to become effective sometime this summer. Given the significant new requirements contained in the bill, school districts are advised to take action now to begin developing policies and procedures that will comply with this new bill. Even if the bill is not ultimately enacted, districts should consider developing a bullying policy based on a best practices approach.