Clarity on Bullying vs. Harassment

From: PENT
Sent: Friday, April 11, 2014 10:41 AM
Subject: Clarity on Bullying vs. Harassment

Greetings PENT Cadre and Supporters, and happy Spring!


I have had a variety of consultations and given specific trainings in school districts and at legal conferences around the country lately on the intersection of bullying and harassment. They are by no means the same thing. We must master this distinction.


The CDC has released a new definition on bullying, which you may wish to review as this can be very helpful in our practices.

"The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines bullying as any unwanted aggressive behavior(s) by another youth or group of youths who are not siblings or current dating partners that involves an observed or perceived power imbalance and is repeated multiple times or is highly likely to be repeated."

Did you notice the ending, "or is highly likely to be repeated?" Thus, if there is a power imbalance and aggressive actions, even one episode could rise to the level of "bullying." The controversy over number of acts necessary for bullying is now inclusive of single acts if it is determined it may be repeated.

This definition has been a long time coming, and included our very own Dr. Clayton R. Cook, PENT research team chair. Uniform definitions allow us to more accurately distinguish and establish rates of aggressive behaviors in general, to specifically bullying behaviors which are a subset of aggressive acts.

There are a wealth of articles that can be of help in school district practice:


The OCR (Office of Civil Rights) in the "Dear Colleague Letters" on Harassment, specifically on disability harassment in the 2013 letter, informs us that actions taken by individuals combined with the creation of a negative environment for the student, can rise to the level of harassment if the impacted individual is a member of a protected class. These include: disability, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, national origin, religion and race.

Harassment requires specific documented steps to prove the district and site administrators were not "willingly indifferent." This interpretation comes from the Davis v. Monroe Supreme Court decision.


In conjunction with a nationally prominent attorney, I have made a site form to help document that the proper investigation and solutions required by OCR as outlined in their "Dear Colleague" letters on this topic are followed. Our site administrators may not be fully aware of their responsibilities. This has been field tested in several districts in California.

I have also developed an integrated "Bullying and Harrassment" documentation form, thanks to the suggestion and field trial in Hacienda-La Puente district as well as several districts in the midwest.

Our Forums went so well, and I thank all of you for the follow-up I have received by email.

"None of us is as skilled as all of us"

Diana Browning Wright
Consulting PENT Director

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