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.
Colorado’s Opening Volley
While it was certainly present within the state prior to legislative mention, bullying was first mentioned in by the Colorado Legislature in 2001 with the passage of Senate Bill 01-080 (SB 01-080). This bill revised state statute 22-32-109.1 (2) by adding a new subparagraph which defined bullying in Colorado as “any written or verbal expression, or physical act or gesture, or a pattern thereof, that is intended to cause distress upon one or more students in the school, on school grounds, in school vehicles, at a designated school bus stop, or at school activities or sanctioned events. The school district’s policy shall include a reasonable balance between the pattern and the severity of such bullying behavior.” This new subparagraph also instituted a requirement of schools’ Safe School Plans in that they would now need to include “a specific policy concerning bullying prevention and education.”
This initial legislative effort to address bullying can be characterized as a first try ample in good faith but insufficient in action. In its analysis, the USDOE stated, “[L]egislation that defines prohibited bullying behaviors, and specifies graduated and substantial sanctions, will often require extensive implementation procedures, such as reporting requirements, investigation, and procedures for implementing the sanction (e.g. expulsion)” (xvi).
Colorado’s 2001 measure defined the behaviors to be understood as bullying, but left specific sanctions to school or district level decision-makers with the only guidance that there should be a plan and it should include considerations of patterns and severity of bullying behaviors.
As it went into effect August 8, 2001, SB 01-080 made bullying a legally identified offense in Colorado schools and required schools to include plans to keep their students safe by preventing and educating them about bullying.
It did not identify means for or require the reporting of bullying incidents in schools, take steps to provide Colorado youth with an avenue to report bullying, or make any mention of the inclusion of research-based methods of bullying prevention.
Perhaps most disconcerting was the lack of any mention of protected classes within this initial bill, despite the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Romer v. Evans in 1996 (517 U.S. 620) which allowed for the inclusion of protected classes in such legislation. Specifically of interest here were lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) youth.
According to the results of the 2011 School Climate Survey conducted by the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network (GLSEN), “56% of students who were harassed or assaulted in school never reported it to school staff, and 62% never told a family member about the incident. Among students who did report incidents to school authorities, only 34% said that reporting resulted in effective intervention by staff” (p. 1).
Such bullying reflects not only a hostile environment for these students, but the unwillingness to report such incidents to their families exemplifies the double isolation of this group of students as well. Doubtless, other instances of feelings of depreciated safety exist among students in other protected classes, but no statewide school-based statistics are available at this time.
In short, SB 01-080 took steps ostensibly intended to reduce bullying and increase student perceptions of their safety within Colorado schools, but did not take advantage of the Legislature’s full power nor did it move to help schools and districts understand specifics of what they could do to protect students.