School districts in Washington have a legal obligation to protect students from harassment and bullying and to take active steps to ensure that all students are safe at school.
New policy guidance from the U.S. Office for Civil Rights (OCR) makes it clear that schools must take prompt and effective action to investigate, remedy, and prevent incidents of harassment. OCR is taking a strong approach to harassment, and it expects compliance. OCR will be filing complaints against school districts around the country that fail to respond to harassment.
In Washington state, if a school knows or should have known about an incident of harassment or bullying, it must:
- Conduct a prompt, impartial and thorough investigation.
- Take interim measures to protect the alleged victim.
- Communicate to all parties involved.
- Maintain privacy and confidentiality.
- Prevent retaliation.
- Take disciplinary action where appropriate.
- Publicly condemn the incident, if widely known.
- Provide support for the victim.
- Take immediate programmatic responses, if appropriate, such as classroom discussion and assemblies.
- Do follow-up: Were the initial steps effective? Has the harassment stopped?
Don’t Wait for a Problem to Arise, Take Action Now!
Responding properly to incidents of harassment and bullying is critical, but the best approach is to prevent incidents in the first place. Many schools have successfully reduced harassment and bullying by taking proactive steps to create a more positve and welcoming school environment.
Here are some steps your school can take to prevent harassment and bullying:
- Provide comprehensive training for staff and students on issues of respect, diversity, and tolerance.
- Demonstrate strong building leadership on the issue.
- School leaders and staff must clearly and regularly communicate a strong and genuine commitment that every student in the school is treated with respect and dignity.
- Hold assemblies on the issue and incorporate the message into all school activities.
- Promote a community-wide culture of respect and inclusion.
- Provide supportive social environments for racial, ethnic, or sexual and gender minority students like Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs) & Latina/o clubs
- Involve students and the greater community in developing Anti-Harassment Action Plans. Preventing harassment and bullying should be part of any school improvement plan.
- Conduct a School Climate Survey.
- Ensure every building has a trained compliance officer.
- Investigate and thoughtfully resolve every alleged incident.
- Document, track, and report all incidents of alleged harassment and bullying.