Two New Student Bullying Laws Require Revision to District Policies and Procedures

October 2011

On October 9, 2011, Governor Jerry Brown signed into law Assembly Bills ("AB") 9 and 1156 which, among other things, clarify and expand the definition of bullying, require school districts to adopt policies prohibiting bullying and require that bullying victims be given priority for interdistrict transfers.  Both laws go into effect on July 1, 2012.

AB 9, also known as Seth’s Law, is named after 13-year-old Seth Walsh who tragically took his own life in 2010 after years of harassment based on his sexual orientation and gender expression.  AB 9 amends and adds to the Safe Place to Learn Act by requiring school districts to adopt policies prohibiting discrimination, harassment, intimidation and bullying based on actual or perceived characteristics.  AB 9 also requires that existing complaint investigation processes include complaints of discrimination, harassment, intimidation and bullying, as well as a timeline to investigate such incidents and an appeal process.  Under AB 9, school personnel who witness such acts must take immediate steps to intervene, when safe to do so.  Additionally, AB 9 requires the Superintendent of Public Instruction to post on his/her Internet web site, and provide to each school district, an annually updated list of statewide resources that provide support to student victims of school-based discrimination, harassment, intimidation, or bullying.

AB 1156 amends Education Code sections 32261, 32282, 32283, 46600 and 48900, and encourages the inclusion of polices and procedures aimed at the prevention of bullying in comprehensive school safety plans.  Additionally, at the request of a student's legal guardian, AB 1156 requires that student bullying victims be given priority for interdistrict transfers under existing interdistrict attendance agreements or, in the absence of an agreement, be given additional consideration for the creation of an interdistrict attendance agreement should those victims choose to pursue an interdistrict transfer.  Contingent upon the availability of funds in the annual budget, AB 1156 also requires the California Department of Justice and the State Department of Education to contract with professional trainers to coordinate statewide bullying prevention training for school districts and personnel. 

AB 1156 also clarifies the definition of bullying as any severe or pervasive physical or verbal act or conduct, including communications made in writing or by means of an electronic act, that has the effect of or can reasonably be predicted to have the effect of:

  • placing a reasonable pupil in fear of harm to his or her person or property;
  • causing a reasonable pupil to experience a substantially detrimental effect on his or her physical or mental health;
  • causing a reasonable pupil to experience substantial interference with his or her academic performance; or
  • causing a reasonable pupil to experience substantial interference with his or her ability to participate in or benefit from the services, activities, or privileges provided by a school.  

AB 9 and 1156 reflect continuing statewide and nationwide efforts to prevent bullying in public schools.  These bills are designed to provide school administrators with more tools to intervene in circumstances where student bullying has occurred or may occur.  The Legislature has also made an effort to provide more support to bullying victims by instituting bullying complaint procedures, providing annually updated support resources and facilitating interdistrict transfers for bullying victims that choose to pursue those transfers.    

Bullying and cyberbullying in public schools has been and continues to be a rapidly developing and expanding area of the law.  If you have any questions regarding bullying or the many recent legal developments in this area or would like assistance in revising policies and procedures to comply with recent developments in the law, please call one of our six offices.  F3 is also offering a workshop titled Logged On to promote cybercitizenship in schools in partnership with Common Sense Media at the Association of California School Administrators (ACSA) 2011 Leadership Summit in Sacramento on November 3, 2011.  Please contact any of our six offices for more information on the Logged On workshop series.

F3 NewsFlash prepared by Gretchen M. Shipley and L. Carlos Villegas.
Gretchen is a partner in the F3 San Diego office.
Carlos is an associate in the F3 Los Angeles office.

This F3 NewsFlash is a summary only and not legal advice.  We recommend that you consult with legal counsel to determine how this new law may apply to your specific facts and circumstances.  Information on a free NewsFlash subscription can be found at www.fagenfriedman.com.

As part of the E-ducation™ Professional Development Series hosted by ACSA and F3, we offer webinars on various topics.  You can find the information on the ACSA website at http://www.acsa.org/MainMenuCategories/ProfessionalLearning/E-ducation-Series.aspx.

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© 2011 Fagen Friedman & Fulfrost, LLP

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