Skip to main content

Questions Answered

Defining Bullying Behavior

What is bullying? At first glance, it might appear that this behavior is easy to define. A common image of bullying might be of a physically intimidating boy beating up a smaller classmate or of one child shoving another inside a hallway locker. While that is still considered bullying, it's important to know that bullying behaviors can be much more complex and varied than historical stereotypes.

For example, while some bullying is physical and easy to recognize, bullying can also occur quietly and covertly, through gossip or on a smart phone or the internet, causing emotional damage.

As a starting point, there are elements that are included in most definitions of bullying. Although definitions vary from source to source, most agree that an act is defined as bullying when:

Many definitions also include:

Students often describe bullying as when “someone makes you feel less about who you are as a person.”

Note: This is not a legal definition. Rather it is a way to help students understand what bullying is. For a legal definition, consult your state’s law on bullying. You can find your state’s law at

Defining “Harassment” Including Harassment based on Disability

The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) have stated that bullying may also be considered harassment when it is based on a student’s race, color, national origin, sex, or disability.

Harassing behaviors may include:

Students have protection under federal laws

In October 2014, as part of National Bullying Prevention Month, the U.S. Education Department's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) today issued guidance to schools reminding them that bullying is wrong and must not be tolerated—including against America's 6.5 million students with disabilities.

The Department issued guidance in the form of a letter to educators detailing public schools' responsibilities under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and Title II of Americans with Disabilities Act regarding the bullying of students with disabilities. If a student with a disability is being bullied, federal law requires schools to take immediate and appropriate action to investigate the issue and, as necessary, take steps to stop the bullying and prevent it from recurring.

The October 2014 guidance builds upon letters the Department has issued in recent years concerning schools' legal obligations to fix the problem, including:

The latest letter makes clear that the protections for students with disabilities who are bullied on any basis extend to the roughly three quarters of a million students who are not eligible for IDEA services but are entitled to services under the broader Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. That law bars discrimination on the basis of disability in all programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance.

Help is available for those who are either targets of disability bullying or know of someone who might be, such as:

To view OCR's guidance detailing public schools' responsibilities regarding the bullying of students with disabilities in Spanish, click here.

Cited from Source:

State Laws and Model Policies

Within state laws, each state addresses bullying differently and the content varies considerably. For example, some states cover it in a single law, while others have multiple laws, or in addition to law they have policy.

The U.S. Department of Education:

The Impact of Bullying

Bullying was once considered a simple, harmless rite of childhood experienced by many students. Today, research shows that bullying has significant short- and long-term effects that impact education, health and safety.

1. Education - Bullying can negatively impact a child’s access to education and lead to:

2. Health - Bullying can also lead to physical and mental health problems, including:

3. Safety – Bullying also impacts student sense of well-being, such as: