Montana’s children are off to a new school year and the excitement of learning. Children need and deserve to learn in a safe environment. When children are bullied in schools, they feel unsafe and learning (and life) is harder.
This is why I’m leading the fight to stop bullying in our schools. In 2015, I was the lead sponsor of the Bully-Free Montana Act. Because I carried this legislation, I am frequently contacted by citizens regarding bullying situations and what schools are required to do under the act. Because school has started again, it is a good time to focus on what Montana law requires schools to do about bullying.
Bullying of a student enrolled in a public K-12 school by another student or an employee is prohibited according to Montana Code Annotated Title 20, Chapter 5, Sections 208 through 210. Montana law defines bullying as “any harassment, intimidation, hazing, or threatening, insulting, or demeaning gesture or physical contact, including any intentional written, verbal, or electronic communication or threat directed against a student that is persistent, severe, or repeated.”
This conduct must do one of the following: (a) cause “a student physical harm,” damage “a student's property, or” place “a student in reasonable fear of harm to the student or the student's property;” (b) create “a hostile environment by interfering with or denying a student's access to an educational opportunity or benefit;” or (c) “substantially and materially” disrupt “the orderly operation of a school.”
Bullying includes “retaliation against a victim or witness who reports information about an act of bullying and includes acts of hazing associated with athletics or school-sponsored organizations or groups.” As for location, bullying includes actions on school premises, in the classroom, on the bus, on the way to of from school, and during school-sponsored programs or activities. Bullying include actions through electronic communication, including texts, emails or online activities.
Schools must have a policy designed to deter and address bullying. Local school boards have discretion and control over the development of their policies, but they must include, at a minimum, the following according to Administrative Rule of Montana 10.55.719:
1. a prohibition against bullying behavior, regardless of any underlying reason the student engaged in the behavior;
2. a procedure for reporting and documenting bullying acts;
3. a procedure for investigation of all reports of bullying including identification of persons responsible for investigation and response;
4. a procedure for determining whether the bullying act is subject to the jurisdiction of the school district or another public agency, including law enforcement;
5. a procedure for referral to the necessary persons or entity with appropriate jurisdiction;
6. a procedure for prompt notification of the alleged victim and the alleged perpetrator, or, if the students are minors, their parents or guardians;
7. a procedure to protect any alleged bullying victim from further incidents of bullying behavior;
8. a disciplinary procedure establishing consequences for students found to have committed bullying behavior; and
9. a procedure for use of appropriate “intervention and remediation” for victims and perpetrators.
A person can contact law enforcement at any time regarding a bullying incident, even if the school is using administrative procedures to deal with the issue.
If you are concerned about bullying or your school’s policy, contact the school and ask for a copy of their policy. It should include these requirements. Talk to the school about questions you have.
School is a time for learning; as mother to four children, I know this firsthand. As attorney general, I will do whatever I can to ensure school is a safe environment for our children to learn and grow.
Rep. Kimberly Dudik, D-Missoula, is a four-term state legislator and candidate for Montana attorney general. She can be contacted at email@example.com.