School Districts Required to Include Bullying as Part of Harassment and Discrimination Policies

On October 9, 2011, Governor Brown signed AB 9, also known as Seth's Law.  The law is an anti-bullying measure aimed at giving public schools tools to prevent and address bullying through mandatory policies and systems to help discourage harassment, track incidents when they do occur and create a safe school environment for all students.  The bill is named in memory of Seth Walsh, a 13-year-old gay student who took his life in September 2010, after facing years of relentless anti-gay harassment at school.

The law amends Sections 234 (Safe Place to Learn Act), 234.1, 234.2, and 234.3 and adds Section 234.5 to, the Education Code.  Generally, the law requires local educational agencies to amend harassment and discrimination policies to include bullying.

Specifically, the law requires the policies adopted by school districts to prohibit discrimination, harassment, intimidation, to now include bullying based on actual or perceived characteristics, as specified in Penal Code section 422.55 and Education Code section 220.  These code provisions identify categories of individuals protected from discrimination and hate crimes.  The law also requires the process for receiving and investigating complaints to include complaints of discrimination, harassment, intimidation, and bullying based on actual or perceived characteristics. 

The law, which takes effect July 1, 2012, also includes a requirement that school personnel who witness such acts take immediate steps to intervene when safe to do so, a timeline to investigate and resolve complaints, and an appeal process. 

To provide school districts additional tools, the law requires the Superintendent of Public Instruction to post and annually update on his or her web site, and to provide to each school district, a list of statewide resources, including community-based organizations, that provide support to youth who have been subjected to school-based discrimination, harassment, intimidation, or bullying, and their families.

The law also requires the California Department of Education to develop a model handout describing the policies addressing bias-related discrimination, harassment, intimidation, and bullying in schools. This model handout also must be posted on appropriate department web sites.

Districts should review and amend their current harassment and discrimination policies to specifically include bullying.  School districts may be entitled to reimbursement for costs associated with implementation as the law is a state-mandated local program.

Categories: Student Issues

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