We know that bullying isn’t nice, but have you thought about the fact that bullying is also illegal? Each state addresses bullying differently. Some cover bullying, cyber bullying and related behaviors in one law, some in multiple laws. But what state laws have in common is that they all declare that any form, type, or level of bullying is unacceptable, and that every incident needs to be taken seriously by school administrators, school staff, teachers, students, and students’ families. All states acknowledge that bullying has a huge and detrimental impact on student learning, school safety, student engagement, and the school environment.

stompoutbullyingSchools that receive federal funding are required by federal law to address discrimination on a number of different personal characteristics such as:

  • Race
  • Color
  • Religion
  • Gender
  • National origin
  • Ancestry
  • Age
  • Marital status
  • Physical or mental disability
  • Military status
  • Sexual orientation
  • Gender-related identity or expression
  • Unfavorable discharge from military service
  • Association with a person or group with one or more of the aforementioned actual or perceived characteristics
  • Any other distinguishing characteristic


Right now, no federal law directly addresses bullying. However, in some cases, bullying overlaps with discriminatory harassment of protected classes such as those mentioned above. In those cases, the behavior is covered under federal civil rights laws and enforced by the U.S. Department of Education (ED) and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). If your school fails to respond appropriately to a student in a protected class who is being harassed, you may be in violation of federal as well as local laws.

What does it mean to “respond appropriately”? Here are some guidelines:

  • Investigate immediately
  • Inquiry must be prompt, thorough, and impartial
  • Interview targeted students, offending students, and witnesses, and maintain written documentation of your investigation
    • Communicate with targeted students regarding steps taken to end the harassment
    • Check in regularly afterwards with targeted students to ensure that the harassment has stopped
    • When an investigation reveals that harassment has occurred, a school should take steps reasonably calculated to: end the harassment, eliminate any hostile environment, prevent harassment from recurring, and inhibit retaliation against the targeted student(s) or complainant(s).


To find out about your state’s laws and policies go to:


To see examples of other states’ laws and what they have in common go to:


To find out what kind of harassment constitutes a federal violation, go to: