The difference between bullying and harassment is a thin line. They both revolve around power dynamics, control, harmful actions, and the perceived ability of the target to stop their experience. Yet, the things that differentiate bullying from harassment stem from the notion that the target its part of a “protected class” designation. Here are some things to be aware of when you consider whether what your child is experiencing is bullying or harassment.
According to California law, there is not an express definition of prohibited bullying conduct beyond guidelines for schools to determine disciplinary consequences. In order to suspend or recommend expulsion, a school must find the following requirements within any circumstance that has been brought to their attention.
“Severe or pervasive physical or verbal acts or conduct, including communications made in writing or by means of an electronic act … directed toward one or more pupils that has or can be reasonably predicted to have one or more of the following effects.
- Placing a reasonable pupil or pupils in fear of harm to that pupil or those pupils’ 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
- 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.”
While California only sets these precedents for bullying, both California and federal law prohibit harassment based on legally protected attributes associated with “protected class” designations. Protected classes include race, color, religion, sex, age, disability, and national origin. Harassment, as it pertains to students, is defined as conduct that creates a “hostile environment” that limits students from participating in or benefiting from school activities or services.
In California, the Education Code states that the school may suspend or recommend for expulsion students in grades 4 to 12 when the school has determined that “the pupil has intentionally engaged in harassment, threats or intimidation, directed against school district personnel or pupils, that is sufficiently severe or pervasive to have the actual and reasonably expected effect of materially disrupting classwork, creating substantial disorder, and invading the rights of either school personnel or pupils by creating an intimidating or hostile educational environment.”
It is important to note that harassment may include bullying, and there are instances in which this holds true. For example, harassment under federal law does not need to be directed at a specific target, is not necessarily motivated by the intent to harm, and is not always repeated, as with bullying.
If you would like to learn more about bullying, contact Simple Acts of Care and Kindness at 866-459-7225 or visit www.simpleacts.org for additional information.