The city of Kansas City, Missouri, looks poised to pass an anti-bullying ordinance. The law prohibits bullying or cyber-bullying of minors, and aims to protect young people off of school grounds, where a large amount of bullying, especially over the internet, takes place.
The law would not impose any consequences on violators who are minors (although it would allow police to detain them). However, part of the ordinance punishes parents and guardians for allowing bullying or cyber-bullying by children over whom they have custody. This approach is similar to that taken with the city’s curfew ordinance.
There’s no question that bullying is a serious issue. Young people have been driven to suicide by constant harassment by their peers, what some experts have referred to as “bullicide,” and it’s taking the lives of American youth across the country. While most of these deaths go unreported for a variety of reasons (including newspaper policies that discourage publishing details of teen suicides out of fear of provoking copycats), there has been some attention in recent years to bullying related to sexual orientation and gender identity. Just this past weekend, a teen in Iowa killed himself after constant bullying based on his sexual orientation and race. He was the fifth to do so in his school in five years. And last year, Rolling Stone produced a heartbreaking piece about the Anoka-Hennepin school district and its seeming disinterest in stemming a terrible tide of suicide amongst its LGBTQ students. And while the statistics bear out that LGBTQ students are often subjected to some of the most serious harassment, students of all backgrounds face bullying and intimidation, both in school and outside of it. Policies, or a lack thereof, can lead to the deaths of students whose torment goes unchallenged.
The question is whether Kansas City’s bill is an effective tool to fight this scourge. Missouri law requires each school district to come up with an anti-bullying policy, but prohibits enumeration of protected categories. Mo. Rev. Stat. § 160.775.3. Many have argued that these enumerated categories are important for protecting groups of students who are actually subjected to bullying, and both GLSEN’s research and the Rolling Stone story seem to bear that out. The ordinance does protect against “[p]ersistent or pervasive intimidation or harassment of an individual because of such individual’s race, color, sex, religion, national origin or ancestry, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity.” This seems to be an improvement over Missouri’s statewide law, at least in this area.
However, what is less clear is if and how the Kansas City Police Department will enforce this law. Bullying often happens behind closed doors, and it may be hard to prove that parents allowed bullying to occur. The ordinance also seems to raise Constitutional questions. Not many cities seem to have passed such a law, and it will be worth seeing what effect, if any, the law has.
The text of the proposed ordinance is here.