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Prevention Strategies & Programs

If you, or someone you know, is in immediate danger or considering suicide, call 911 or 988. For additional support and resources, see the Get Help Now webpage at

Bullying & Harassment Law in Iowa

Harassment and bullying are defined in Iowa Code 280.28 as: Any electronic, written, verbal, or physical act or conduct toward a student which is based on any actual or perceived trait or characteristic of the student and which creates an objectively hostile school environment that meets one or more of the following conditions:

  • Places the student in reasonable fear of harm to the student's person or property
  • Has a substantially detrimental effect on the student's physical or mental health
  • Has the effect of substantially interfering with a student's academic performance
  • Has the effect of substantially interfering with the student's ability to participate in or benefit from the services, activities, or privileges provided by a school

There are 17 protected traits or characteristics in the law. "Trait or characteristic of the student" includes but is not limited to age, color, creed, national origin, race, religion, marital status, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, physical attributes, physical or mental ability or disability, ancestry, political party preference, political belief, socioeconomic status, or familial status.

As noted in the Iowa Code 280.28.3, the board and the authorities shall make a copy of the policy available to all school employees, volunteers, students and parents or guardians and shall take all appropriate steps to bring the policy against harassment and bullying and the responsibilities set forth in the policy to the attention of school employees, volunteers, students, and parents or guardians.

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  • Iowa Code 280.28(3) and Iowa Administrative Code 281-12.3(13) require school districts and accredited nonpublic schools to have policies against harassment and bullying, complaint forms and investigative procedures in place.
  • House File 604 and Iowa Code 279.65A require school districts to develop and distribute policies for different grade levels that describe how a school district or charter school may discipline a student for making a threat of violence or causing an incident of violence that results in injury or property damage or assault. See model policies from the Department of Education. Check your district’s policies for their specific policies.
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Responsibility of the Iowa Department of Education

The Iowa Department of Education (Department) is responsible to work with the district/school to ensure it is following state and/or federal code, has appropriate policies and procedures in place, and is following them to keep all people safe.

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Bullying Checklist - District (6-5-24) - Details responsibilities of the Department and school districts. Contains a sequenced process following a student report of bullying as well as federal law, parent/family resources, explanation of the difference between conflict and bullying, Department contacts  and an AEA Learning Online link to training for educators.

Conflict vs. Bullying: What is the Difference?

Conflict is generally a disagreement or difference in opinion between peers who typically have equal power in their relationships. It’s usually an inevitable part of a group dynamic. Both parties have power to influence the situation (Pacer’s National Bullying Prevention Center).

Bullying is a persistent pattern of unwelcome aggressive behavior that often involves an imbalance of power and/or the intention to harm or humiliate someone (Safe@School). Characteristics of a bullying situation include:

  • An imbalance of power
  • The intent to harm;
  • Worsens with repetition over time;
  • The distress of the child or teen being bullied, often including fear or terror;
  • Enjoyment of the effects on the child or teen being bullied by the person (people) doing the bullying;
  • The threat--implicit or explicit--of further aggression

For Students

  • If you are being bullied:
    Look in your school handbook or Board Policies to find your District’s policy on bullying and harassment
  • Review the definition of Bullying
  • Identify a trusted adult (parent, teacher, administrator) and tell them
  • Keep a written record of the details identifying: location, date, time, what happened, and who was around, including adults
  • Ask for the help you need

Student Resources

For Parents, Guardians & Families

Parents, guardians and families have an important role for both preventing and responding to bullying.

Unfortunately, bullying happens both in and out of school. When it occurs, it can be upsetting to the student as well as the family. If your child has shared they are being bullied, report it to the school.

Reporting Bullying to Schools

  1. Check your district’s handbook and website for the Board’s definition, approved policy and process for reporting bullying and harassment, investigations and determinations (they may be under “board policies”). Note the designated person for any reporting.
  2. Review the definition of Bullying/Harassment as shared above.
  3. Review the Bullying Checklist - District.
  4. Keep a written record of the details of incidents and any communication with the school. Log incidents identifying: location, date, time, what happened, your child’s response, and who was around, including adults.
  5. If you submit a complaint, use the process outlined in your district policy; if they do not offer one you may use this complaint form.
  6. Meet with the school face-to-face in person, if possible, so that emails and/or texts from you or the school are not misinterpreted.
  7. Ask for a safety plan for during the investigation and an on-going communication plan by and between school, parent/guardian and student (if developmentally appropriate) be developed during an in-person meeting. Sample Safety Plan

Resources Parents, Guardians & Families

For Schools

Review your school board's bullying policy and verify it is posted on your school's website, handbooks and in school offices where students and their families have easy access.

Review the Bullying Checklist - District.


  • Follow your board policies & established protocol 
  • The identified school contact and/or administrator(s) may consider communicating directly and immediately with parent(s)/guardian(s) at any time there is an issue with their child.
  • Do not bring the alleged perpetrator and target together to mediate the situation.

For School Administrators

School administrators have the opportunity and responsibility to address school bullying on all levels of a student's experience. By leading the school or district in bullying prevention efforts, administrators can help create a safer, more positive learning environment. The following are a few things school administrators can do:

  1. Verify that your bullying policies, complaint and investigation process, forms and outlined consequences are easily found on your website as well as in student handbooks.
  2. A school official is required to notify the parents or guardians of a student enrolled in the school district within 24 hours after the school official receives a report that the student may have been the victim of conduct that constitutes harassment or bullying.
  3. Consider developing a safety plan for the target and alleged perpetrator. Sample Safety Plan
  4. Respond to and conduct investigations of bullying reports expeditiously. Remember this includes a response to any electronic, written and/or verbal notification/complaint.
  5. Communicate quickly and often with parent(s)/guardian(s) should their student be involved. Meeting in person may improve communication and limit misinterpretation of other communication sent or received by the parent/guardian and/or the school.
  6. Review the Bullying Checklist - District.
  7. Consider a 3rd party investigator if relationships are strained between school and parent(s)/guardian(s)
  8. Increase adult supervision in hot spots where bullying occurs.
  9. Intervene consistently and appropriately in bullying situations.
  10. Train your staff in bullying prevention. Please note: Prevention efforts are most effective when there is ongoing coaching and progress monitoring, rather than one-time events or training.
  11. Focus on improving school-wide positive learning environments
  12. Assess bullying at your school by reviewing collected data including referrals, suspensions and Conditions for Learning.
  13. Develop a process for student response and feedback to those data and to offer suggestions. (Include students that represent the full range of demographics of your student body.) 
  14. Form a group to coordinate the school's bullying prevention activities.
  15. Include students through an active role in initiating and leading bullying prevention activities.
  16. Garner staff and parent support and engagement for bullying prevention.
  17. Continue these efforts over time.

School Administrator Resources

What does not work to address Bullying?

MisdirectionWhy it’s not recommended
Zero Tolerance
  • Unrealistic and disruptive, given the numbers of students involved in bullying.
  • Doesn’t allow for intervention or consequences that teach and reinforce new skills.
  • Lack of supervision for students at home on suspension or expulsion.
  • Severe punishments can deter reporting.
  • We want to meet the needs of all students.
Conflict Resolution and Peer Mediation
  • Implies both parties bear responsibility.
  • May further victimize the target.
  • Bullying is abuse, not another problem behavior.
Group Therapeutic Treatment
  • Group members may model inappropriate behavior.
  • Can reinforce bullying behavior.
Overstating or simplifying the relationship between bullying and suicide

Using words like bullycide or bullied to death, or reading books/viewing videos that depict suicides by bullied students are not recommended because:

  • It suggests that bullying may be caused by only one factor
  • It increases the risk of suicide contagion and communicates to bullied students that suicide is an option to solve the problem
  • Diminishes the fact that while some kids are seriously harmed and a small number do take their own lives, most students will bounce back from cruelty at the hands of other kids. They’ll remember being bullied or being a bully and will have learned something useful, even though painful.
Simple, short-term solutions
  • One shot assemblies or speakers are unlikely to reduce bullying problems and often make bullying problems worse.
  • One-time staff trainings do not give staff the tools they need to effectively prevent and respond to bullying.
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Intradistrict Transfer Due to Bullying

Senate File 496 Sec. 18. 279.82 provides that a parent or guardian of a student enrolled in a school district may enroll the student in another attendance center within the same school district that offers classes at the student’s grade level in the manner provided in this section if, as a result of viewing a recording created by a video surveillance system or a report from a school district employee, and consistent with the requirements of the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy (20 U.S.C. § 1232g; 34 CFR Part 99), and any regulations promulgated pursuant to that Act, the school district determines that any student enrolled in the school district has harassed or bullied the student.

  • Intradistrict Transfer Request Form - To be used by a parent or guardian when notifying the school district that they intend to enroll the student in another attendance center within the same school district after the school district determines that any student enrolled in the school district has harassed or bullied the student. (Iowa Code 279.82)
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Open Enrollment Due to Bullying

Students who open enroll in grades nine through 12 are not eligible to participate in varsity competitions during the first 90 school days of transfer (not counting summer school). However, any student will be immediately eligible for varsity athletic competitions if the resident district has determined that the student exercising open enrollment was subject to a founded incident of harassment or bullying as defined by Iowa Code 280.28.

Guidance on Varsity Athletic Eligibility of Students Open Enrolling due to Bullying and Harassment

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Required Data Reporting

Public and accredited nonpublic schools are required to submit bullying and harassment data to the Department.

All incidents meeting one or more of the following criteria, provided by Iowa’s anti-bullying/harassment law, must be reported: 

  • Conduct placed the student in reasonable fear of harm to the student’s person or property
  • Conduct had a substantially detrimental effect on the student’s physical and mental health 
  • Conduct had the effect of substantially interfering with the student’s academic performance 
  • Conduct had the effect of substantially interfering with the student’s ability to participate in or benefit from services, activities, or privileges provided by the school 

Bullying Data

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