New in Schools, Part I: Bullying Prevention Law Changes

by Maureen Anichini Lemon

The Illinois General Assembly recently made several changes to the Illinois Bullying Prevention Law. 105 ILCS 5/27-23.7.

In a nutshell, the Law prohibits bullying on the basis of actual or perceived race, color, religion, sex, national origin, ancestry, age, marital status, physical or mental disability, military status, sexual orientation, gender-related identity or expression, unfavorable discharge from military service, association with a person or group with one or more of the aforementioned actual or perceived characteristics, or any other distinguishing characteristic.

Public Act 103-47 expanded the list of actual or perceived characteristics to include: physical appearance, socioeconomic status, academic status, pregnancy, and homelessness.

A person taking a picture of a person with her hand on her face

Description automatically generated Additionally, the Act replaced the Law’s original “prompt” notice to parents or guardians of all students involved in an alleged incident of bullying with notice “within 24 hours after the school’s administration is made aware of the student’s involvement” in the incident.

Also, the school must make diligent efforts to notify the parent or guardian, using all contact information that can be reasonably obtained by the school within the 24-hour period. This notice is required after all individual instances of bullying, as well as all threats, suggestions or instances of self-harm determined to be the result of bullying.

Furthermore, beginning in August 2024, each school district must collect, maintain, and submit to the Illinois State Board of Education (“ISBE”) non-identifiable data regarding verified allegations of bullying by August 15 of each year. The ISBE will, in turn, adopt rules for the submission of this data including, but not limited to (i) a record of each verified allegation of bullying and action taken; and (ii) whether the instance of bullying was based on actual or perceived characteristics noted above and, if so, the relevant characteristics.

P.A. 103-47 also required the ISBE to publish a template model bullying policy. The model policy which was published on January 1, 2024, and can be found on the ISBE’s website. Notably, the model policy now contains a recommendation that schools have a “bullying report manager,” whose contact information should be listed.

It is imperative that the contact information for the appropriate district administrator is listed on your district’s bullying policy so that students, parents, and others who wish to make a bullying report know how to do so.

The model policy further affirms the right of an individual to make an anonymous bullying report, but states that formal disciplinary action cannot be taken solely on the basis of an anonymous report. A school district should not ignore a report simply because it is anonymous; that report must be taken seriously, investigated, and the results of the investigation properly documented. Any formal disciplinary action would arise out of the investigation rather than the anonymous report alone.

Consistent with ISBE regulation 1.295 implementing schools’ Bullying Prevention Policy (23 Ill. Admn. Code. §1.295), school districts must review and re-evaluate their bullying policy every two years to assess its outcomes and effectiveness and make necessary revisions based on factors listed in the model policy. The reviewed policy shall be submitted to the ISBE through the IWAS system by September 30.

If you have any questions or need guidance implementing your bullying prevention policy and procedures, please contact one of your attorneys for assistance.