What Are Anti-bullying and Cyberbullying Laws in DC?

By Peter DePaolis

Bullying is conduct characterized by aggressive behaviors, harassment, discrimination and power imbalances. Bullying, like abuse, can be physical or verbal. It can also be electronic, in the form of cyberbullying. As many as one in three students in the U.S. face bullying at school, with most cases occurring in middle schools. Many states, though not all, have enacted antibullying laws to help protect youth. Washington, DC has some of the most comprehensive antibullying and cyberbullying laws in the country.

Definition of Bullying Under DC Law

According to Code of D.C. Municipal Regulations 4-1502, bullying is any persistent, severe or pervasive act or conduct based on a protected class or distinguishing characteristic that could reasonably put the victim – a youth – in fear of physical harm or property damage. The act also qualifies as bullying if it causes substantial detriment to the victim’s mental health, physical health, academic performance, school attendance or the ability to participate in school activities. A protected class can be many things related to the youth.

  • Race, color, ethnicity, genetics or national origin
  • Religion or political affiliation
  • Sex, gender expression, sexual orientation or gender identity
  • Age
  • Marital status
  • Personal appearance
  • Intellectual ability
  • Physical disability
  • Family status or responsibilities
  • Matriculation
  • Income or source of income

Targeting a victim on one of these bases and causing emotional or physical distress is bullying in the eyes of DC lawmakers. Bullying may be written, electronic, verbal or physical. DC’s antibullying laws apply to youth on school grounds. Off-campus, the state’s antibullying laws do not apply. DC’s schools must adopt certain policies to help prevent and address bullying.

What Is DC Doing to Prevent Bullying?

The District of Columbia has strict policies and regulations in place to help prevent on-campus bullying and cyberbullying. These laws require schools in the district to adopt antibullying policies that prohibit all forms of bullying. While schools can largely design their own policies, they must include a few key elements. Schools can also use the model bullying prevention policy for guidance.

  • The district’s definition of bullying
  • Statements expressly prohibiting all forms of bullying on campus
  • Procedures for how to report bullying
  • Statements prohibiting retaliation against people who report bullying
  • Codes of conduct that set behavioral expectations for students
  • List of consequences for violating the policy or conduct requirements

All schools in DC must submit yearly updates confirming the person who will serve as the point of contact regarding antibullying policies. Each year, schools must also report the number of bullying incidents on campus to the Office of Human Rights. Schools in DC must annually train their staff members and teachers to properly respond to bullying complaints and incidents. Each school should create an antibullying task force – one that includes parents – to preside over the school’s bullying prevention efforts.

Penalties for Noncompliance

If a student or teacher fails to comply with a school’s anti-bullying policies, that person will face the consequences listed within the policy. If a school ignores DC’s antibullying and cyberbullying laws, the school could face penalties such as fines and infractions. The school may need to upgrade its antibullying policy to avoid negative repercussions. If the school fails to reasonably prevent bullying and a child suffers as a result, the school may be liable for damages.

The parents of a victim of bullying in the District of Columbia may have the right to file a civil lawsuit against the school or school district in pursuit of monetary damages. If the parents had to pay for medical bills or psychological therapy for a bullied child, these may be compensable expenses. The family may also be able to recover for emotional suffering and mental duress the child suffered because of a bully. A school may be liable for bullying if it negligently failed to meet DC’s antibullying laws and requirements.

About the Author
Peter DePaolis joined the firm in 1980 and has since represented a large number of individuals involved in automobile collisions, truck accidents, bus crashes, defective products, and medical malpractice cases. A significant portion of Mr. DePaolis’ practice is devoted to working on behalf of people suffering from asbestosis, mesothelioma, and other asbestos-related cancers. He has led his firm’s fight against the asbestos industry and has recovered over $30 million in damages for asbestos victims and their families.