Bullying in Iowa

Authored By: Iowa Legal Aid


Many parents and providers are unsure of what rights their children may have if their child has been bullied at school. Although few specific remedies currently exist, Iowa law has evolved to provide some answers.

In 2007, the Iowa legislature passed a law requiring all public school districts and some private schools to have anti-bullying and anti-harassment policies. Iowa law also requires that school employees, volunteers, and students shall not engage in harassing or bullying behavior. The law applies to any bullying that takes place at school, on school property, or at a school-sponsored event, regardless of location.

What Is Bullying?

“Bullying” is not limited to physical assaults.  It includes electronic, written, verbal or physical acts toward a student, which are based on “personal traits” and create a “hostile school environment.”  "Cyber-bullying" is becoming more common.  Cyber-bullying is the use of electronic means such as text-messaging, email and the Internet to bully others.

What are personal traits?

Personal traits include:

  • 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; and
  • socioeconomic status or familial status.

What is a hostile school environment?

A hostile school environment is:

  • When the student is afraid he or she will be hurt;
  • When the student is afraid his or her things will be damaged;
  • When the student's physical or mental health is harmed;
  • One that interferes with the student's academic performance; or
  • When the student's ability to participate in school events is affected.

How Can I Tell If My Child Is Being Bullied?

  • Your child is unwilling/fearful of going to school;
  • Fear of taking the bus or walking to school;
  • Frequently "lost" lunch money;
  • Torn or ripped clothes/backpack;
  • Depression; or
  • Declining school performance.

What Can I Do If My Child Is Being Bullied?

  • Ask the school about the school’s anti-bullying and anti-harassment policy

  • The school is required to make a copy of their policy available to all employees, volunteers, students, and parents or guardians. 

  • Each school’s policy must specify the procedure for reporting an act of harassment or bullying, as well as the consequences for someone who violates the policy. 

  • If you report an act, school staff should investigate the bullying immediately.  After investigating, they should inform you what they plan to do about it. 

  • If you are not satisfied with the school’s response, you can ask for the school board to hear the matter. 
  • These cases can eventually end up in civil court if the school board fails to properly respond.

What if my child is being bullied away from school?

  • If harassment and bullying continues away from school property or events, parents and guardians may consider contacting the police to report the harassment. 
  • In Iowa, a person commits harassment when they communicate with another in person, by telephone, writing, or electronic communication without a legitimate purpose in a manner and with the intent to intimidate, annoy, or alarm that person. 
  • Also included in this definition is any threat to commit bodily injury.  When making a report to the police, parents or guardians may find it helpful to have some evidence of the harassment to show the officer.

Why Is Bullying A Problem?

Bullying is a problem that can have life-long consequences for the victims, the bullies and for other children who witness it. Research has shown that:

  • Students need a safe school environment to learn and achieve at high academic levels.

  • Harassing and bullying make it hard for students to learn and succeed in school.

  • Harassing and bullying make it hard for school employees to maintain a safe and civil environment in schools.

  • Children may feel sad or guilty when they see bullying and they may feel powerless to stop bullying. Or they may see bullies succeed at getting what they want and feel tempted to take part.

  • Bullying can cause mental health problems such as depression and low self-esteem. These can continue into adulthood.

Who Does The Law Cover?

The law protects students from bullying by other students, school employees, and volunteers. A different law, the Iowa Civil Rights Act, protects students, teachers, other employees, and volunteers from discrimination.

What Must Schools Include In Their Anti-Bullying Policies?

  • The definitions of bullying and harassment;

  • Descriptions of what is expected from employees, students, volunteers and parents/guardians when it comes to preventing, reporting and investigating bullying and harassment;

  • The consequences for someone who violates the policy;

  • Procedures for reporting bullying and harassment, including the contact person for reporting incidents;

  • Procedures for investigating bullying and harassment, including who is responsible for investigations and how they will decide if bullying or harassment has taken place; and

  • Procedures the schools will use to publicize the policy each year.

Where can I find more information?
For more information about bullying, visit http://www.stopbullying.gov/ a website of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.  

Iowa Legal Aid provides help to low-income Iowans. 


To apply for help from Iowa Legal Aid:call 800-532-1275. 
Iowans age 60 and over, call 800-992-8161 or 
apply online at iowalegalaid.org
If Iowa Legal Aid cannot help, look for an attorney on “Find A Lawyer” on the Iowa State Bar Association website iowabar.org.   A private attorney there can talk with you for a fee of $25 for 30 minutes of legal advice.
*As you read this information, remember this article is not a substitute for legal advice. 



Last Review and Update: Jul 20, 2023
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