Bullying: Wisconsin law limited

With increasing reports of bullying today, it is natural for parents to worry. Research has shown how bullying can lead to emotional scars, even suicide.

The definition of bullying is deliberate or intentional behavior — words or physical actions — meant to cause fear, intimidation or harm. It may happen at home, school or in the community.

“Wisconsin doesn’t have a specific law against face-to-face bullying, but it does have one prohibiting cyber harassment,” said attorney Cheryl Gill. “It is unlawful under state law to use a computer, the Internet, email or a communication device to frighten, intimidate, abuse or harass another person. That is considered to be cyberbullying.”

The closest law Wisconsin has concerning general bullying came in 2010 when state law began requiring school districts to define bullying and spell out school responses to incidents. These policies, posted on district websites, define bullying, reporting and investigating procedures and disciplinary actions.

“Most districts have a progressive disciplinary policy that begins with an apology, but has other steps up to and including expulsion,” Gill said. They begin with warnings, consultation with parents, in-school and out-of-school suspension and, ultimately, expulsion.

Another legislative attempt to address bullying came last year when a bill was introduced to fine teachers and other school employees $200 for not reporting incidents of bullying. It did not pass, in part because the Wisconsin Association of School Boards felt it would have unintended consequences, such as overidentification of incidents as bullying for fear of fines. It also could lead to districts narrowing the definition of bullying, which might prevent students from getting the help they need.

The policies we have today may not have as much teeth as parents would like because both the victim and the abuser have a right to education.

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