101/365 Bullying in Colorado: Part 5 of 7

This 7-part series will cover the history of bullying legislation and anti-bullying efforts within the state of Colorado beginning with the first definition of bullying by the Legislature in 2001.

Banning Bullying: Take II

If 01-080 stood as the Colorado Legislature’s attempt at showing its recognition of bullying as a problem in the State’s public schools, House Bill 11-1254 (11-1254) was its attempt at refining that recognition and taking measures to solve the problem. Sponsored by 35 legislators (5 of whom had also sponsored 01-080), the new bill filled in a number of the holes left by the State’s initial definition of bullying.

Seeing the initial requirement of schools to implement a policy regarding bullying, 11-1254 expanded its encouragement to schools to at minimum incorporate the “biennial administration of survey of students’ impressions of the severity of bullying in their schools  and character building.” It also suggested the formation of a team at each school to advise schools administrations “concerning the severity and frequency of bulling incidents that occur in the school.”

The bill also required schools not only to set forth a system of consequences for perpetrators of bullying, but to implement consequences for anyone who “takes any retaliatory action against a student who reports in good faith an incident of bullying” as well.

It was not enough to have a policy regarding bullying. The Legislature wanted schools to begin asking questions as to the need of that policy and what experts and community members might suggest schools do about their findings. Unfortunately, these were not requirements, as each of these actions was only “encouraged” according to the bill’s language.

From a practical standpoint, such wording is not surprising. It allows for the appearance of crafting policy that improves the reporting mechanisms within schools and protects students, while avoiding the creation of unfunded mandates. Logic dictates that only those schools with deeper pockets would be most likely to take the initiative to implement these suggestions.

The bill made simpler and more expansive the State’s definition of bullying as well. It included the electronic forms of bullying and extended bullying prevention to explicitly cover federal and state protected classes.  This expansion appears to have taken into consideration the Romer decision as well as state and national reports of suicide and violence against students who had been bullied as a result of their membership in these classes.

The bill also increased reporting requirements for schools. It added a report of incidents of bullying to the Safe School Reporting Requirements, moving from simply requiring schools to have a policy regarding bullying to holding schools accountable to the State. A paper trail would now be created to gather data in the interest of painting a clearer picture of the extent of bullying in Colorado schools. As helpful as this may seem, a review of 2011-2012 school and district reports from a handful of Colorado schools revealed few if any mentions of bullying incidents or any specific plan to prevent or combat bullying behavior.

Aside from refining previous work, 11-1254 also expanded the State’s official efforts to prevent bullying in its schools. The bill established the School Bullying Prevention and Education Grant Program. Charged with distributing collected funds to Colorado schools to aid “efforts to reduce the frequency of bullying incidents.” While 11-1254 did not allocate state funds to the creation of this program, it did allow for the securing of such funds through private and non-profit donations. Grant recipients would be required to use a portion of the allocated money to educate parents and schools’ local communities and implement the bill’s suggested actions.

Though the bill established a cash fund within the state budget for the operation of this grant program, it did not require the allotment of state monies to that fund. Additionally, it allowed for the acceptance of private and non-profit donations, but made clear that it was not requiring attempts at procuring such funds.

In short, the grant program required intentional inclusion of funding in the state budget or on the fortuitous goodwill of private organizations or citizens to begin its funding. Again, such a move gives the appearance of action on the part of the Legislature, but avoids the actual funding of that action.

If funding or lack of funding were the contingencies upon which the majority of the intended effects of 11-1254 relied, at least one portion of the bill was written without any funding entanglements. Filling in a missing component of 01-080, the new bill required the Colorado Department of Education (CDE) to “continually make publicly available evidence-based best practices and other resources for educators and other professionals engaged in bullying prevention and education.”

The CDE was also mandated to “solicit evidence-based best practices and other resources” from all relevant state education groups and post them online. One such agency was the School Safety Resource Center. The new bill expanded the mission of the Center to specifically include the gathering and dissemination of bully-related research in the interest of making it more widely available to all relevant education agents. This joined Colorado with only a handful of other states that included such best-practice requirements in their anti-bullying laws or policies.

Finally, reflecting the changing educational landscape between 2001 and 2011, 11-1254 laid out anti-bullying requirements for the states charter schools, many of which had not existed when the State first defined bullying. These requirements were the same in the letter and scope of the portion of the new law as it addressed regular public schools and ensured that all Colorado students attending any type of public school enjoyed the same bullying protections.

On the whole, 11-1254 moved Colorado toward a more comprehensive approach to lessening bullying occurrences within its schools by expanding its definition of bullying behaviors and explicit inclusion of students belonging to protected classes.

With a notion to help schools develop their best practices in bullying prevention, the bill also established a grant program for helping to fund that development, though it did not fund the grant program outright.

Still, despite its funding failings, the bill did prioritize bullying prevention efforts for the CDE by requiring the department to seek out, evaluate, and provide the state’s schools with access to the latest research best practices in bullying prevention.

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