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Understanding Bullying

What is Bullying?

The definition below is used for bullying prevention and intervention programming in schools. This definition guides efforts to educate all constituents with common language around bullying.

Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time.

In order to be considered bullying, the behavior must be aggressive and include:

  • An Imbalance of Power: Kids who bully use their power—such as physical strength, access to embarrassing information, or popularity—to control or harm others. Power imbalances can change over time and in different situations, even if they involve the same people.
  • Repetition: Bullying behaviors happen more than once or have the potential to happen more than once.

Bullying includes actions such as making threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone physically or verbally, and excluding someone from a group on purpose. - 2014 US Department of Education office of Safe Schools

In his writings, Dr. Dan Olweus, creator of the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, is very clear that bullying is peer abuse that should not be tolerated.


Types of Bullying from

Verbal - speaking or writing mean things.

  • Teasing
  • Name-calling
  • Inappropriate sexual comments
  • Taunting
  • Threatening to cause harm

Social Bullying - (Relational Bullying) hurting someone’s reputation or relationships   

  • Leaving someone out on purpose
  • Telling other children not to be friends with someone
  • Spreading rumors about someone
  • Embarrassing someone in public

Physical bullying - hurting a person’s body or possessions  

  • Hitting/kicking/pinching
  • Spitting
  • Tripping/pushing
  • Taking or breaking someone’s things
  • Making mean or rude hand gestures


Bullying Defined in Iowa Law

Harassment and bullying are defined in Iowa Code section 280.28 as: Any electronic, written, verbal, or physical act or conduct toward a student which is based on any actual or perceived trait or characteristic of the student and which creates an objectively hostile school environment that meets one or more of the following conditions:

  • Places the student in reasonable fear of harm to the student's person or property.
  • Has a substantially detrimental effect on the student's physical or mental health.
  • Has the effect of substantially interfering with a student's academic performance.
  • Has the effect of substantially interfering with the student's ability to participate in or benefit from the services, activities, or privileges provided by a school

"Trait or characteristic of the student" includes but is not limited to age, color, creed, national origin, race, religion, marital status, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, physical attributes, physical or mental ability or disability, ancestry, political party preference, political belief, socioeconomic status, or familial status.


Bullying is Not

Conflict is not Bullying. A conflict is a disagreement or antagonism between two or more people. All parties involved have some responsibility for the encounter. It is not bullying when two or more kids with no perceived power imbalance, fight, have an argument or disagree. Conflict resolution strategies can be employed to find common ground when both parties have a vested interested in resolving the conflict. Bullying is abuse and needs to be reported as such. Peer mediation may be appropriate in these situations.

The difficulty here is to know when a situation is conflict and when it can be relational bullying or social bullying. Relational bullying does occur within social groups of “friends.” It is critical for educators to be careful to seek to understand when “friend” behaviors that might have been conflicts turn into bullying. Be careful to:

  • Understand the characteristics of relational bullying
  • Educate all staff, students and parents about relational bullying
  • Make sure you are addressing social and emotional development for all students
  • When bullying is reported NEVER bring those involved together for the interview, do not intervene and treat the report as a conflict without first investigating and assuring bullying is not occurring


Legal Requirements

All school boards, public and those of accredited non-public schools are to have the anti-bullying/anti-harassment policy adopted on or before September 1, 2007. Read more about the Anti-harassment/Anti-bullying policies.

In addition to the 17 traits or characteristics in the new bullying bill, the Iowa legislature this year amended the Iowa Civil Rights Act (Iowa Code chapter 216) to add sexual orientation and gender identity. Read more about nondiscrimination in education.

17 protected traits or characteristics in the Law
In the law there are seventeen areas specifically addressed as protected for students. They are: real or perceived age,color, creed, national origin, race, religion, marital status, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, physical attributes, physical attributes, physical or mental ability or disability, ancestry, political party preference, political belief, socioeconomic status, or familial status. Harassment against employees based on race, color, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, religion, age or disability is also protected.


Resources for Schools to Use for Professional Development

Bullying and Civil Rights: An Overview of School Districts' Federal Obligation to Respond to Harassment - The webinar and other materials on this page discusse the obligation of school districts to respond to allegations of harassment in a prompt, thorough, and effective manner. They also provide examples of appropriate and inappropriate responses and give ideas about what to do if harassment continues.

Federal Dear Colleague Letters regarding Bulling and Harassment


Anti-Bullying/Harassment Sample Policy

The Iowa Department of Education (DE) and the Iowa Association of School Boards (IASB) provided a sample policy that addresses the requirements of the legislation. This is a sample policy and it is recommended that school districts consult their legal counsel in developing local policies.

Anti-Bullying/Harssment Sample Policy

Anti-Bullying/Harassment Complaint Form

Anti-Bullying/Harassment Witness Disclosure Form

Anti-Bullying/Harassment Investigation Procedures

Anti-Bullying/Harassment Disposition of Complaint Form


Data Reporting

Accredited public and nonpublic schools are required to submit these data to the Department.

The process for reporting bullying and harassment data has changed substantially.

Bullying and harassment data for the 2014-15 school year will now be collected at the district level at the end of the reporting period through a survey tool such as Survey Monkey.  Public districts and nonpublic schools will be required to submit total counts for each data element.  Only one survey per district will be accepted.

The documents below have been provided to help ensure that valid and reliable data are reported to the Department. The template provided is for use in acquiring aggregate counts, not for final reporting to the Department. Each superintendent will submit a single aggregate count for their district. The Department highly encourages use of the template to prepare counts for this single submission as the survey will have to be completed in a single session and cannot be revisited.

2014-2015 Bullying/Harassment Data Instructions

2014-2015 Bullying/Harassment Data Instructions – Examples (2015-04-30)

2014-2015 Bullying/Harassment Data Template (2015-04-30)

All incidents that meet one or more of the following criteria based on the targeted student's perception of the incident should be reported.

  • conduct placed the student in reasonable fear of harm to the student's person or property
  • conduct had a substantially detrimental effect on the student's physical or mental health
  • conduct had the effect of substantially interfering with the student's academic performance
  • conduct had the effect of substantially interfering with the student's ability to participate in or benefit from services, activities, or privileges provided by a school

Certification of these data will be required at the end of the reporting period, which is defined as July 1, 2014 through June 30, 2015.

Ongoing Q & A Bullying/Harassment Reporting System

Data Reported for 2008-2009 to 2012-2013


AEA Support Network for Bullying and Harassment Prevention Intervention

Iowa AEAs and some school districts have Trained Specialists in bullying prevention and intervention. Each Staff member listed here has been trained in Olweus an International Program implemented in over a dozen countries across the world. It is recognized by Safe and Drug Free Schools as an Exemplary Program. In addition Olweus is recognized by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention and the Center for the Study and Prevention and Violence (University of Colorado), as one of only 11 Blueprints for Violence Prevention. Please contact a trainer from the list for support and information. You will also find other supports and information at AEA websites across the state. You can read more about bullying and programming and materials at Olweus Bullying Prevention Program.

AEA Olweus Trainers


Resources - The official U.S. Government website for information regarding Bullying is managed by the Department of Health & Human Services in partnership with the Iowa Department of Education and Department of Justice.

Cyberbullying: Doing Something about It, Lawfully - This document addresses the legal aspects of cyberbullying. The document addresses when a school may discipline the cyberbully. More importantly, the document discusses steps that must be taken by school officials even in situations where the school cannot lawfully punish the cyberbully.

Best Practices in Bullying Prevention Programs - A guide developed for you with ten components and further descriptors to help you evaluate any bullying prevention programs you might consider.

Program Selection Guidelines - As schools begin to implement their policies and practices with regard to anti-bullying and harassment issues, the Iowa Department of Education's document provides an excerpt from "Preventing Bullying Policy." These excerpts are intended as a starting point to sort those programs that hold the greatest potential for success from those that have the best marketing strategy. It is titled: Program Selection Guidelines.

Analyzing Existing Bullying Behaviors
The Olweus program includes the administration and follow-up of a data tool called the BVQ. (Bully, Victim Questionnaire) Questions on the Iowa Youth Survey regarding bullying and harassment are closely aligned with the BVQ. See your AEA Olweus Trainer for more information regarding the BVQ.

Iowa Association of School Boards Presentation, May 2007 - You will find a PowerPoint presentation for school administrators and school board members across Iowa delivered as a component to the spring 2007 workshop addressing the new bullying and harassment law.

Iowa Public Television ICN Series on Anti-Bullying and Harassment
Anti-Bullying and Anti-Harassment Part I (Definitions, Effects of Bullying, What works and what doesn't, Bullying Data, Possible Next Steps) A professional development session already prepared for a district or building to use in conjunction with efforts to understand the new law and reduce bullying and harassment in schools.

A Parents' Guide to Facebook - Designed to teach parents how to help their teens strengthen their privacy and safety on Facebook, the guide features important topics such as risks involved in social networking, how to parent Facebook users, managing reputation in the digital age, managing your privacy on Facebook, reporting problems and more.  The guidebook is published in partnership with the iKeepSafe Coalition.

What we know about Bullying Tip Sheet

Warning signs that a child is being Bullied Tip Sheet

How toTalk with Educators at Your Childs School About Bullying: Tips for Parents of Bullied Children

Children who Bully others Tip Sheet

Bullying and Children with Disabilities Tip Sheet

Bullying and Sexual Orientation Tip Sheet

Best Practices in Bullying Prevention Tip Sheet

Protecting your Child from Electronic Aggression

Electronic Aggression Brief from the Center for Disease Control

Bullying Fact Sheet from Centers for Disease Control

Misdirections in Bullying Prevention and Intervention

Myths About Bullying

Preventing Child and Youth Sexual Violence: A Resource for Iowa Families - The term "sexual violence" is used to describe violence against someone that is sexual in nature. It may include behaviors that are physical, verbal, or visual. There are three different types of sexual violence described in this dosument--sexual harassment, sexual abuse, and sexual assualt. This document provides general information and resources to help parents and families understand, recognize, and respond to sexual violence of their child or youth. Resources are organized into groups to ensure age appropriateness.

Printed from the Iowa Department of Education website on August 04, 2015 at 12:50am.