Bullying in Connecticut Addressed in the Wake of Orlando Massacre

In the wake of the Orlando Massacre, the Southeastern Connecticut Clergy Association, OutCT and representatives of the City of New London organized a public forum for June 29, 2016 entitled Take Action Orlando.   CHRO Attorney Alix Simonetti was among the featured presenters. Please see out last post for an overview of the forum.

During the forum, Attorney Simonetti fielded many questions about discrimination in the antibullyinglogo3schools and discriminatory bullying. Connecticut boards of education are prohibited from discriminating against any student in their provision of education and the child’s participation in any educational related experience and school related activity on the basis of their race, color, sex, gender identity or expression, religion, national origin or sexual orientation

Attorney Simonetti discussed the statutory protection against bullying that requires all boards of education to provide a safe school climate for the students. The statutes require each board of education to develop a safe school climate plan, develop and disseminate information identifying the school’s policy prohibiting bullying, the process to file a bullying complaint, identification of the safe school climate officer. All school employees are required to report any bullying conduct that they observe to the safe school climate officer, and investigation of the conduct must follow.  Although teachers and school faculty have the duty to report any alleged bullying, there was previously confusion about what conduct constituted bullying. A 2011 amendment to 10-222d defined and clarified the conduct that constituted bullying:

(1) “Bullying” means (A) the repeated use by one or more students of a written, oral or electronic communication, such as cyberbullying, directed at or referring to another student attending school in the same school district, or (B) a physical act or gesture by one or more students repeatedly directed at another student attending school in the same school district, that: (i) Causes physical or emotional harm to such student or damage to such student’s property, (ii) places such student in reasonable fear of harm to himself or herself, or of damage to his or her property, (iii) creates a hostile environment at school for such student, (iv) infringes on the rights of such student at school, or (v) substantially disrupts the education process or the orderly operation of a school. “Bullying” shall include, but not be limited to, a written, oral or electronic communication or physical act or gesture based on any actual or perceived differentiating characteristic, such as race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, socioeconomic status, academic status, physical appearance, or mental, physical, developmental or sensory disability, or by association with an individual or group who has or is perceived to have one or more of such characteristics;

Even though the definition of bully has been clarified, there is still appears to be a reluctance to report incidents of bullying or a confusion about particular instances which must be reported.  To be clear, all instances must be reported.  It is only through putting all of the instances of bullying on the record that the scope of the problem can be identified, acknowledged and properly addressed.

After the speaking portion of the forum ended, parents of bullied youth complained that they were not aware of the law or that the mandatory processes existed.  Attorney Simonetti and other leaders want to see increased training of school faculty to recognize and identify bullying more efficiently particularly against students because of their sexual, gender, or racial identity.   The CHRO is always willing to go into school and conduct in-service sessions to help clarify the bullying laws and help protect students from harassment and discrimination.  Through uniform enforcement and a clearer understanding of the current statutes, schools will be able to more effectively confront and prevent bullying in schools.