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.

How does Washington State law define Harassment, Intimidation and Bullying (HIB)?

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:

  1. Physically harms a student or damages the student's property; or
  2. Has the effect of substantially disrupting a student's education; or
  3. Is so severe, persistent, or pervasive that it creates an intimidating or threatening educational environment; or
  4. 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.

What can I do if I think my child is being bullied or harassed?

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.

Where can I find my school district’s Harassment or Bullying Incident Reporting Form?

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 found at: https://www.k12.wa.us/student-success/health-safety/school-safety-center/school-safety-security-related-rcws-wacs/harassment-intimidation-and-bullying-hib

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: Click here to view the model policyClick here to read the model procedure.

Who is the HIB Compliance Officer for my District?

Click here to find your School District's HIB Compliance Officer. 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: https://www.k12.wa.us/student-success/health-safety/school-safety-center/school-safety-security-related-rcws-wacs/harassment-intimidation-and-bullying-hib.

What is the difference between “Bullying” and “Harassment”?

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: https://ospi.k12.wa.us/policy-funding/equity-and-civil-rights 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.

Who are the Civil Rights (anti-Discrimination) Compliance Coordinators for my district?

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: https://ospi.k12.wa.us/policy-funding/equity-and-civil-rights/complaints-and-concerns-about-discrimination

What can I do if my child is accused of bullying or harassing others?

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.

Tips for Families to Prevent & Address Bullying

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. Watch for emotional distress. If your child shows signs of emotional distress seek help immediately.

What if I feel school has not been a positive place for my child? Do I have to keep sending my child even they are being bullied, facing discrimination, or constantly getting in trouble?

If you find out that your child is being bullied or harassed, you can start by reporting it to the school principal and your child's teacher. If your child is afraid to go to school because of the bullying or harassment, ask the school to work with you on a Safety Plan, to help make sure your child can be safe, and feel safe, at school. They can work with you on a Safety Plan even while they do a thorough investigation to find out what has been happening. You can talk with the principal about excusing absences if your child misses school because of bullying or harassment.

If your child is feeling like they just aren't welcome at school, or you are wanting to find another alternative for them, we hope you will call us to see if we can help come up with options.

There are also options for different kinds of school programs. Not all are available in every district, but some options are available statewide (for example, part-time or full-time online public school programs). Or parents can choose to homeschool their children.

We can't promise we'll be able to solve the problem, but we would like to help you try. You can call us at 1-866-297-2597 or find us online at www.oeo.wa.gov.

How can OEO help?

OEO is here to listen to your questions and concerns, share information, and work with you to figure out what steps you can try to make things better for your child. In some cases, with a parent or guardian's permission, we can work directly with you and the school or district to try to clarify what's going on, and find out what's possible to address the situation. Read more about how we work, or call us at 1-866-297-2597.

Video Resources:

Watch our short videos explaining "What is Bullying and What can I do about it?" in English and in 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: https://oeo.wa.gov/sites/default/files/public/Toolkit-Safety-Plan.pdf

Check out our Toolkit on Addressing Discrimination (including Discriminatory Harassment): Discrimination-Toolkit-06.27.17.pdf