PORTLAND, Ore. – As kids head back to class in Oregon and Washington starting next week, there’s a new effort to cut back on the chance they’ll face bullying.
On Tuesday, Illinois joined 12 other states, plus the District of Columbia, to give schools there the power to enforce anti-bullying laws off campus and not just on school grounds. Oregon and Washington’s anti-bullying laws don’t cover what’s becoming known as the “bullying loophole.”
Earlier this year bullying surfaced in anonymous Facebook posts about students at Dallas High School, which is outside of Salem. Pleas from students had already led lawmakers to pass anti-bully laws in Oregon and Washington.
But a study by researchers working with the online Cyberbullying Research Center shows Oregon and Washington are only middle of the pack when it comes to anti-bullying efforts nationwide. One of the researchers, Justin Patchin, spoke with KATU via Skype from Wisconsin.
“Ultimately, some states go beyond that and, for example, direct some kind of prevention or response strategy,” he said. “Oregon’s law, I know, makes some mention of training, but it doesn’t really go into any specifics about what would be required.”
Some Oregon anti-bullying advocates worry the new law in Illinois for off-campus enforcement may go too far.
“I mean, that’s a lot to put on a school to say, things that happen that are on the other side of a city or a town is your responsibility. Right? Schools have a lot to do,” said Noela Young, who is with the Oregon Safe Schools and Communities Coalition.
She would rather have stronger zero tolerance messages for students and parents around laws already on the books.
“I think some of it is about communication,” she said. “You know, how do we get this out to more people and make sure everybody’s paying attention.”
While schools might not have the staff, time or money to address off-campus bullying, researchers believe just having an expanded law in place sends an important message.
“It sort of legitimizes the problem,” said Patchin. “It makes educators and parents and police officers aware that this is something necessary to combat.”
After a check with Oregon’s Department of Education and Washington state’s Office of Public Instruction, it appears that right now neither state has started any effort to help lawmakers write up off-campus legislation.