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More States Make Bullying a Criminal Act; Does Police Action Help?

June 13, 2012 08:42:48 am

An analysis from the U.S. Department of Education shows that state legislators increasingly are willing to criminalize bullying behavior, even as experts wonder whether doing so will curb the behavior and improve the learning atmosphere, USA Today reports. As millions of students head off to summer breaks, they might leave behind face-to-face bullying that includes everything from simple taunts to brutal beatings. They may not be able to escape the digital world that gives predators access to their prey day and night and well beyond the schoolyard gates. Only in the past decade or so have states moved to address what once was simply the domain of schools. In 1999, only Georgia had an anti-bullying law. Now every state but Montana does. In the past 13 years, states have enacted nearly 130 anti-bullying measures, half of which came since 2008.

Prompted partly by the Columbine shootings in 1999, in which media accounts suggested the perpetrators had been bullied, states began rapidly addressing bullying, says the Department of Education report found. Eighteen states have laws that allow victims to seek legal remedies for bullying, either from schools that don't act or from the bullies themselves. Russlynn Ali, the Department of Education's assistant secretary for civil rights, said schools should think hard before turning discipline cases over to police. "It's hugely important to set the (school) culture right and make it safe for all," she said. "That is different from sending children to jail."

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