The Time Is Now for a Federal Anti-Bullying Law

Last week, Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) reintroduced the Safe Schools Improvement Act (SSIA), an act that would solidify the requirement for schools to address bullying and hold them accountable to collect data on the incidence and response. Federal bullying prevention legislation has been introduced every year since 2003, when Congresswoman Linda Sanchez (D-CA) first introduced the "Bullying Prevention for School Safety Act." Over the course of the last ten years, support for federal bullying legislation has only grown, garnering bipartisan support and the endorsement of SSIA by President Barack Obama last year.

The time to pass this bill is now. As we at the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights have learned through our global human rights education program, Speak Truth To Power, making children feel safe and empowered in school is vital to their ability to learn.

Forty-nine states already require schools to address bullying in some way. These bills vary in their definitions of bullying, their requirements, and the protection afforded to students. A 2011 report by the U.S. Department of Education showed that only a handful of states follow best practices shown to be effective in reducing bullying such as including -- but not limiting to -- enumerated groups, including relationally or socially aggressive acts like social ostracism, and including mental health support for not only those targeted by bullying, but also those who perpetrate. SSIA ensures that all states follow these best practices.

In 1973, child abuse legislation was much at the same point we are today with bullying prevention legislation. Nearly all states by that time had some form of child abuse law, yet each defined child abuse differently and provided different reporting and assistance procedures and regulations. Each state recognized the need for such legislation, just like nearly all states have with bullying today, yet these differences made it hard for the federal government to provide resources, training, tools and other assistance that would serve the needs of each state. With varying definitions, collecting accurate date to understand the issue was also impossible. There was a clear need for a federal definition and federal guidance on the minimum requirements surrounding child abuse, and, in 1974 the first Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) was enacted.

CAPTA has made it possible for more consistent and accurate accounting of child abuse and more sustained, collaborative and evidence-based efforts towards its prevention. It is time we do the same for bullying. Just as we know the horrible effects child abuse can have on a child's current and future well-being, emerging evidence shows us that bullying by peers can have many of the same results that persist long after the bullying has ended. Bullying prevents children from receiving an education, a human right we must vigorously defend. We must take action now, and pass the Safe Schools Improvement Act.