Bullying, Harassment, and Intimidation
Every student needs a safe space in order to learn. Bullying, harassment and intimidation get in the way of that and can negatively affect everyone in the school.
Bullying and harassment can happen at any school, even if the school is working to prevent it. Bullying and harassment can be a difficult topic for schools, families and students, but not talking about it can make it worse.
Find information and tools here to help you figure out who to talk to, how to raise informal and formal complaints, and how to help prevent and respond to bullying or harassment.
If you have questions, or want help understanding or addressing a concern, contact us. You can fill out our online intake form, or call us at 1-866-297-2597. Phone interpretation is available.
Click on each question to go directly to that section.
Bullying is commonly defined as unwanted, aggressive behavior 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 (not accidental) 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 can include physical aggression, like hitting, kicking, or tripping someone.
Bullying can also be verbal. It can include calling a person names or saying mean things to them. It can also include saying things to other students about someone – spreading rumors, gossiping, or posting things online.
Washington state law, at RCW 28A.300.285, defines bullying and harassment as:
Any intentional electronic, written, verbal, or physical act, including but not limited to one shown to be motivated by any characteristic in RCW 9A.36.080(3), or other distinguishing characteristics, when the intentional electronic, written, verbal, or physical act:
- Physically harms a student or damages the student’s property; or
- Has the effect of substantially disrupting a student’s education; or
- Is so severe, persistent, or pervasive that it creates an intimidating or threatening educational environment; or
- Has the effect of substantially disrupting the orderly operation of the school.
Nothing in this section requires the affected student to actually possess a characteristic that is a basis for the harassment, intimidation, or bullying.
RCW 28A.300.285(2). Find it online at http://apps.leg.wa.gov/rcw/default.aspx?cite=28A.300.285.
The Washington State law prohibiting bullying and harassment in schools was first passed in 2002. It has been changed a couple of times since then, to include “electronic” or online bullying, and to require each school district to adopt the state model policy and procedure on preventing and responding to harassment and bullying. The law makes each school district responsible for addressing harassment and bullying in its schools.
If you can do it safely, tell the person to stop. Walk away. Get help.
Let someone know what is happening and how it makes you feel. Telling an adult at school, right away, will make it easier for them to take action to help you.
Telling your family will make it possible for them to support you. Your family can connect with the school to help make sure you are safe, and help make sure the bullying or harassment stops.
Many school districts now have anonymous reporting options for reporting bullying, harassment or other safety concerns.
Even when adults know about a problem with bullying, and want to fix it, the bullying does not always stop right away.
If you have told someone at school that you are being bullied or harassed, but it is still happening, try telling another adult at school, and talk again with your family. Find an adult that you trust, and ask for their help in sharing your concerns with your school principal, or with contacting your district’s HIB Compliance Officer.
If you want to make a formal complaint, ask for a copy of your school’s Harassment and Bullying Incident Reporting Form, fill it out and give it to your principal. Also, ask for a copy of your district’s HIB Policy and Procedure so you can understand what to expect if you report bullying or harassment. Ask about putting together a Safety Plan, so that the adults at the school can help make sure you do not have to confront the person who has been bullying or harassing you.
Ask your child to explain what has been happening, and how it has made them feel. If they can tell you details, like how long it has been going on, who has been involved, who was nearby, and where it happened, write those down so you can talk about them with the school.
Check in with your child’s teacher about what you have heard from your child, ask them if they have any more information, and if they can help keep an extra eye on the situation.
Report the concern to your child’s principal. You can call, or send an email.
If the issue is not resolved with a quick investigation and intervention, ask for a copy of your district’s Harassment and Bullying Incident Reporting Form, or find one on your district’s website; fill it out and give it to your child’s principal.
You can also reach out to your district’s HIB Compliance Officer, for help in understanding the process, or for help if the problem continues.
Ask for a copy of your district’s HIB Policy and Procedure, and review it to see what you can expect next if you make a formal report of bullying.
Understand a child may be reluctant to talk about bullying or harassment. Be patient, and persistent in trying to understand what is happening and offering support.
Talk about safety – work with the child and check in with the school to make sure your child knows who they can go to if they are being bullied, or feeling unsafe. You can use our Safety Planning Toolkit to help design a plan for your child’s safety.
Many school districts post their Incident Reporting Forms online. They may also be available at the principal’s office.
If your child has been the target of bullying or harassment, it is important to bring it to the attention of school administrators so they can take appropriate steps to address it.
You can also use these model Incident Reporting Forms:
Where can I find my school district’s anti-Harassment, Intimidation and Bullying (HIB) Policy and Procedure?
Every school district is required to have a policy and procedure that explains how the district will work to prevent and respond to reports of harassment, intimidation and bullying (HIB).
Many districts post their HIB Policy and Procedure on their website, sometimes with additional information about bullying. You should also be able to find them by looking under the School Board or About Us tab for a link to the district’s full Policy and Procedure manual.
Also, you can ask for a copy by calling your school or district office.
You can find a copy of the state’s model HIB policy and model HIB procedure online, here:
Every district is required to identify a person responsible for being a primary point of contact, and making sure the district complies with its anti-harassment, intimidation and bullying policy. That person is called the “HIB Compliance Officer.”
Ask at your school or district office: You should be able to find out the name and contact information for your district’s HIB Compliance Officer by asking at your school or district office.
Look online at OSPI’s website: You can also find your district’s HIB Compliance Officer’s name and contact information by searching on the School District HIB Compliance Officer Contact List posted on the OSPI website, at: http://www.k12.wa.us/safetycenter/BullyingHarassment/pubdocs/ComplianceOfficerContactList.pdf.
Harassment, or more specifically “discriminatory harassment,” happens when someone is targeted because they belong, or appear to belong, to a protected class, and when the conduct is so serious that it creates a hostile environment.
If a student is bullied, made fun of, or targeted because of their race, color, national origin, religion, disability, sexual orientation, gender expression, gender identity, or use of a service animal, and it creates a hostile environment, if a school knows about it but does not take appropriate steps to address it that can be a kind of discrimination. That can include sexual harassment, or racial harassment.
You can read more about discriminatory harassment, and find information about students’ rights in relation to discriminatory harassment in 11 languages, at OSPI’s Equity & Civil Rights page, here: http://www.k12.wa.us/Equity/DiscriminatoryHarassment/default.aspx
In addition to having a policy and procedure to address bullying (the HIB Policy and Procedure), every district is required to have a policy and process to address complaints of discrimination, including discriminatory harassment. Each district also must identify Civil Rights Compliance Coordinators.
Students or families can also file complaints of discriminatory harassment with the OSPI Equity & Civil Rights Office, or the US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.
For more information about discrimination complaints, visit OSPI’s Equity & Civil Rights Office webpage, or contact them at 360-725-6162. You can also check out our short toolkit on Discrimination Complaints.
Each district is required to identify a contact person for compliance federal laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex (Title IX Officer), disability (Section 504/ADA), and compliance with Washington state’s anti-discrimination law (State Compliance Coordinator).
Ask at your school or district office: You should be able to find out the name and contact information for your district’s Civil Rights Compliance Coordinators by asking at your school or district office.
Look online at OSPI’s website: You can also find your district’s Civil Rights Compliance Coordinators’ names and contact information by searching the School District and Charter School Compliance Coordinators List, posted on the OSPI website, at: http://www.k12.wa.us/Equity/ContactList.aspx
Your child, and you, should hear from the school if they get a report that your child has been bullying or harassing another student. Ask the school to share with you what they know, and what they have observed about your child’s behavior.
Check in with your child’s teachers to see if they have more information about how things are going generally for your child, and if they have noticed any problems in their class.
Because people sometimes understand “bullying” or “harassment” differently, ask the school to share their definition of bullying and harassment, and explain what your child did, and how that fits with the definition.
Check in with your child. Ask about what happened, and what they were feeling.
If your child did engage in inappropriate behavior, whether it was “bullying” or something different, talk with them to be sure they understand what was inappropriate, and why.
Talk with your child, and the school, about what they could do to try to make up for a mistake, and whether they need supports to be able to stay out of trouble in the future.
If the school proposes to suspend, expel, or otherwise discipline your child, you and your child will have rights to notice, an opportunity to be heard, and an appeal. Check out our Learn About page on Student Discipline for more information, and ask for a copy of your district’s student discipline policy.
- Keep the lines of communication open.
Check in with your kids often. Know their friends, ask about school, and understand their concerns. Encourage them to share problems and concerns with you.
- Help kids understand bullying.
Talk about what bullying is and how to stand up to it safely. Tell kids bullying is unacceptable. Remind them that no one deserves to be bullied. Raise awareness so that targets and witnesses will feel comfortable enough to speak up.
- Remind kids to stop and think before they say or do something that could hurt someone.
Model compassion and respect. Children learn by imitating parents and other adults. Be a good example for your child.
- Thoroughly investigate the situation.
Take the time to fully understand what happened, who was involved, and how it all started. Getting to the root cause of the behavior will help you develop an appropriate response – whether your child was the target, a bystander, or the one bullying someone else.
- Encourage youth to tell the aggressor that this is bullying and it is not appropriate.
Let your child know it’s appropriate to walk away to a safer place. Tell them to report the incident to a school staff member.
- Learn about your child’s school’s bullying policies.
Emphasize that the school staff cares about safety and has a process to assist your child. If your child is bullied, schedule a meeting with school staff.
- Talk to other families to raise awareness.
Determine the extent to which bullying is occurring among other kids. Alert other parents if your child is being bullied as this will prompt them to ask about their kids’ own experiences.
- Find out about your school district’s anti-bullying policy and procedures.
Become familiar with what your district’s policy says. School district policies are often posted on districts’ websites or you can request a copy from the school or district office.
- Make sure your child feels (and is) safe and secure.
Convey unconditional support. Show your child through words and actions that you want to help them make the bullying stop.
- Watch for emotional distress.
If your child shows signs of emotional distress seek help immediately.
Watch our short videos explaining “What is Bullying and What can I do about it?” in English and in Spanish:
- Harassment, Intimidation or Bullying (HIB) video English
- Hostigamiento, Intimidación o Acoso Escolar (HIB) video español/Spanish
Check out our February 2018 Ask an Ombuds Webinar for Information about Harassment, Intimidation and Bullying: https://youtu.be/ELTBSxi_ev4
Chequee nuestra Preguntele a un Mediador de Mayo, 2017 para Informacion sobre Acoso, Intimidacion y Bullying: https://youtu.be/w_yla8SgMZY
Find our Safety Planning Toolkit on our Publications page: http://oeo.wa.gov/wp-content/uploads/Toolkit-Safety-Plan.pdf
Check out our Toolkit on Addressing Discrimination (including Discriminatory Harassment): https://live-oeo-wa.pantheonsite.io/wp-content/uploads/Discrimination-Toolkit-06.27.17.pdf