October is National Bullying Prevention Awareness Month

How to Create Effective Anti-Bullying Policies for Schools

Having clear school policies on bullying helps to clarify expectations on appropriate behaviour and what the consequences of bullying are. With school policies on bullying in place, everyone in the school can be on the same page.

Anti-bullying policies in schools should include both protection for students and also the adults in the workplace. Once drafted, the task then becomes one of communicating the policy to teachers, staff and students. When schools do have anti-bullying policies written, often they’re not well known or too vague.  Worse, they may include policies already known to be ineffective at reducing bullying behaviour such as zero-tolerance.

School bullying policies should also prescribe interventions to change student behaviours and help them learn how to develop healthy social relationships.

Steps to Drafting School Bullying & Harassment Policies

Step  1 : Define bullying

Most provinces and states have their own definition of what bullying is. Schools and school boards should adopt theirs to avoid inconsistency with province and state law.

Looking for a kid-friendly definition of bullying?

Step 2 : Check if your department or ministry of education has a model anti-bullying policy.

Several states and provinces have model school bullying policies available for schools and school boards to adopt. In the US, these states include model policies: Alaska, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and West Virginia.

In many cases, available model policies may not be completely consistent with current anti-bullying best practices and research. Is it recommended that schools and school boards customize policies to match both the unique school environment as well as current research.

Other important considerations:

  1. The locations where the policy applies should be specified (e.g., does it include field trips, children on the way to school, etc)
  2. Laws usually specify a student’s right to a safe learning environment. If so, mention that.
  3. Include a prohibition on workplace anti-bullying in your school’s
  4. Emphasize the negative effects of bullying.

Step 3 : Specify how incidents are to be reported

How will students, teachers, parents, etc report bullying incidents at your school? Is there an online anonymous reporting system (like our BRIM online bullying reporting tool) or will students need to go to the principal? Will records be kept in electronic format or paper? Who should incidents be reported to? Who will be responsible for investigating them?

With the reluctance of bullied students to go to the counsellor’s office or approach teachers to report incidents, web-based reporting mechanisms are strongly recommended or at the very least a way for students to anonymously report incidents should be provided. A locked box by the school office keeps false reports down will still allowed students to anonymously report.

Anti-bullying policies for schools should also state the responsibility of school employees to report all incidents in the specified manner.

Finally, policies should explicitly prohibit retaliation against those reporting true incidents while providing repercussions for those knowingly report false incidents.

Step 4 : Specify how reports are to be investigated and disciplinary actions.

To quote from Massachusetts’ model policy, all schools are required to “accept and review all reports of bullying including anonymous reports. If after initial inquiry, an anonymous or oral report appears to warrant further investigation, school districts shall promptly continue with an investigation.“

Step  5 : Include help for victims of bullying

School anti-bullying policies often omit mention of victims need for help.  Victims should be assessed and referred to appropriate counselling and psych services as needed.

Rhode island’s “if the victim’s mental health has been placed at risk, appropriate referrals will be made. If the bullying included a violent criminal offense, the victim of the bullying incident will be informed of any school transfer rights he or she may have under federal no child left behind act.

Step 6: Include anti-bullying training and prevention procedures

School wide programs to change school culture and encourage peer intervention in incidents are critical. Any programs selected at the school or school board level should be empirically validated and include training and parent participation.

10 Elements of Best Practice to Address Bullying (from Bullying Prevention & Intervention by Susan M Swearer)

  1. Focus on changing the social norms of entire school environment,
  2. Assess bullying and victimization levels at your school
  3. All school staff should be trained in anti-bullying
  4. A safe schools and anti-bullying advisory team should be created to coordinate school efforts
  5. Staff, parent and student involvement are all critical
  6. There should be clear rules and consequences for engaging in and/or support bullying
  7. Increased adult supervision may be necessary – particularly in bullying hotspots around the school.
  8. Consistent individual interventions for both bullies and victims should be provided
  9. Classroom time should be focused on bullying and peer relations
  10. Efforts must be continued over time. Anti-bullying is not a one-time

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