Bullying Investigations Pt 1

Bullying Investigations Part 1 of a 3 part Newsletter Series

An Effective Adult Response to Bullying Complaint Management and Investigation is Mandated

By Mary Jo McGrath, Attorney at Law, Educational Consultant


An October alert issued by the USDOE Office of Civil Rights (OCR)* warns that bullying and harassment may violate students’ civil rights. Education Secretary Arne Duncan stated that school districts are “… charged with stopping [bullying and harassment], with fixing the problem, and with preventing it so that it never happens again and students have a safe place to learn.”

Duncan states that the OCR is “… going to really challenge places that have their heads in the sand and aren’t displaying the courage to move forward in the right direction.”

Failure to stop the bullying may result in loss of federal funding!

Since the OCR warning, we have received numerous calls from school districts nationwide expressing concern that they are not prepared with an adequate adult response to bullying and harassment complaint management and investigation. I have been advising clients for several years that anti-bullying measures must go beyond character education and culture change. Our programs do just that.

Civil rights must be protected and it requires a significantly different approach than many bullying and student discipline policies and procedures currently take.

There is great need for concrete, step-by-step adult response processes to handle concerns, complaints and site/district-level investigations. To be part of the solution, I am releasing a series of e-newsletters that speak directly to the unique issues of bullying and harassment and the ‘How To’s’ of getting the job of eradication done.


Lawyers, legislative mandates, and board policies often tell school districts what they must do, but not how to do it.

This e-newsletter addresses the initial steps to cast a wide net of detection and intervention, which often is the best approach to prevention. According to Duncan:

“Every adult in the school from principals to custodians, cafeteria workers to teachers must intervene and act when they see bullying for whatever reason.”

Detection and early intervention start with equipping these adults with a streamlined tool to readily transmit information about possible bullying incidents. We have designed an Incident Report Form for you to provide to every adult at school. Disseminate this easily completed form to every adult on your school site, employee or volunteer, with the simple instructions for filling it out that are printed on the form itself.

Putting this first step in place will help enormously to ensure that you are in the information pipeline. It will enable you to garner information that will address what you ‘should know’ about possible bullying behavior as required by the OCR.


Administrators often unwittingly take actions according to their student discipline policy that may violate the targeted student’s civil rights.

In the second installment of this e-newsletter series we will address the flaws that may exist in your current anti-bullying policy and regulations. Most likely your current policy requires an “Intent to Harm” in its definition of bullying, which may violate federal law.

The third installment will cover the appropriate adult response to the information received. Most site administrators have not been trained in the specialized techniques required for bullying complaint management or investigation.

Upcoming McGrath e-newsletter Bullying and Harassment Series will cover:

  • The McGrath Five-Point Criterion For Determining When Bullying And Harassment Violate Civil Rights
  • The McGrath Four-Point Logic System To Determine The FACTS, IMPACT, CONTEXT AND ACTION Of Investigation
  • The Step-by-Step, Five-Phase Process For Investigation, With Forms And Checklists
  • How to Interview Witnesses, and Potential Witnesses
  • An Inappropriate Response: Conflict Resolution!
  • Why Discipline Alone Often Is An Inadequate Remedial Action

If we may be of immediate assistance, please contact us for individualized attention. Please call us at (800) 733-1638 or email info@mcgrathinc.com for assistance.

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Stay tuned for your next e-newsletter installment. Please feel free to forward the e-newsletter to your colleagues and friends so they also benefit from the information.

You can purchase School Bullying: Tools for the Adult Response to Complaints and Investigations, Corwin Press 2007 by attorney Mary Jo McGrath on Amazon.com. Just click this link.

* Dear Colleague Letter: Harassment and Bullying, October 26, 2010

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