What Changes are Coming to Connecticut’s Bullying Law?

Connecticut’s bullying laws, set forth in Connecticut General Statutes Sections 10-222d, 10-222g, 10-222k and the like, have long obligated school districts to remedy acts of bullying and teen dating violence.  School districts have long had in place a Safe School Climate Plan, a written bullying complaint form and a defined procedure for addressing such complaints.  These plans and procedures as currently formulated, however, will come to an end commencing July 1, 2025.

Connecticut Public Act 23-167 implements many changes to the existing bullying laws. Among other things, schools will soon have to address all “challenging behavior,” not just bullying; and the definition of bullying itself   is redefined. Replacing the longstanding Safe School Climate Plan will be a “School Climate Improvement Plan,” with all new protocols.  New duties will be given to the School Climate Coordinator and the School Climate Specialist.

What are these changes and when must schools implement them? Let’s get to it.

What are the Changes in the Bullying Law Definitions?

There are several.

First and foremost, the legislature has vastly changed the definition of “bullying.”  Whereas bullying is now defined as conduct that is “severe, persistent or pervasive,” bullying will soon be defined as “unwanted and aggressive behavior among children in grades kindergarten to twelve, inclusive, that involves a real or perceived power imbalance.”

While certainly a change, this new definition may be somewhat lost in the fact that PA 23-167 no longer requires school districts to address just “bullying,” but also “challenging behavior.”  This is defined as “behavior that negatively impacts school climate or interferes, or is at risk of interfering, with the learning or safety of a student or the safety of a school employee.” PA 23-167 repeatedly requires schools to identify, prevent and address “challenging behavior,” which undoubtedly expands the types of conduct that school districts must monitor, including protecting employees.

What are Some of the Other New Terms in PA 23-167?

PA 23-167 also introduces the following new terms:

  • School Climate Improvement Plan.” As articulated below, this is the primary new plan that school districts will have to develop and implement, in place of the current “Safe School Climate Plan.”  The School Climate Improvement Plan is a “building-specific plan developed by the School Climate Committee, in collaboration with the School Climate Specialist, using school climate survey data and any other relevant information, through a process that engages all members of the school community…. that prevent, identify and respond to challenging behavior, including but not limited to alleged bullying and harassment in the school environment” Revealingly, the term bullying is included as one type of challenging behavior that school districts must now address.
  • School environment” is defined to mean a “school-sponsored or school-related activity, function or program, whether on or off school grounds, including at a school bus stop or on a school bus or other vehicle owned, leased or used by a board of education, and may include other activities, functions or programs that occur outside of a school-sponsored or school-related activity, function or program if bullying at or during such other activities, functions or programs negatively impacts the school environment.” It goes without saying that the setting covered by the climate plan has expanded.
  • School Climate Survey.” The school climate survey will serve as the foundation for the School Climate Improvement Plan.  PA 23-167 defines it as “a research-based, validated and developmentally appropriate survey administered to students, school employees and families of students, in the predominant languages of the members of the school community, that measures and identifies school climate needs and tracks progress through a School Climate Improvement Plan.”
  • “School Community.” PA 23-167 appears to expand the community of individuals involved in addressing challenging behavior. The term “school community” means “any individuals, groups, businesses, public institutions and nonprofit organizations that are invested in the welfare and vitality of a public school system … including but not limited to students and their families, members of the local or regional board of education, volunteers at school and school employees.”
  • “Restorative Practices.” PA 23-167 places great emphasis on school districts taking “restorative practices” towards challenging behavior.  “Restorative Practices” are defined as “evidence and research-based system-level practices that focus on (A) building high-quality, constructive relationships among the school community, (B) holding each student accountable for any challenging behavior, and (C) ensuring each student has a role in repairing relationships and reintegrating into the school community.”

The current terms “hostile environment,” “outside of the school setting,” and “positive school climate” are no longer used in the new bullying law The existing definitions of “school employee,” “emotional intelligence,” “cyberbullying” and “teen dating violence” remain essentially the same. 

Will Boards of Education Receive Any Guidance?


Connecticut General Statutes Section 10-222q establishes a Social and Emotional Learning and School Climate Advisory Collaborative (Collaborative) that is tasked with providing various forms of guidance to school districts on bullying.  Under PA 23-167, the Collaborative must, by February 1, 2024 (1) develop school climate standards; (2) create a uniform bullying complaint form; and (3) provide guidance to school districts on the implementation of Connecticut’s new school climate policy.  The uniform bullying complaint form must be included on the Department of Education’s website and by local and regional boards of education on their internet web sites.  (See PA 23-167 § 48).

What Will Boards of Education Have to Do Under the New Laws?

1.  Create and Administer a School Climate Survey (PA 23-167 § 53)

Starting with the 2025-2026 school year, the School Climate Committee, as defined below, must administer a school climate survey to students, school employees and families of students.  Parents may give notice that their child may opt out of the survey.  There is currently no guidance on the specific content of the survey.  The results of the survey must be used to develop a new School Climate Improvement Plan.

2.  Develop and Implement a School Climate Improvement Plan (PA 23-167 § 54)

Starting with the 2025-2026 school year, the School Climate Coordinator, in collaboration with the School Climate Specialist, shall develop and implement a School Climate Improvement Plan.  (Plan). The Plan shall be submitted to the School Climate Coordinator for approval no later than December 31 of each year.  Upon approval, a written or electronic copy shall be made available to the school community and shall establish how to identify, prevent and respond to challenging behavior.

3.  Include Certain Protocols in the School Climate Improvement Plan (PA 23-167 § 71)

In what will replace the current Safe School Climate Plan, the Plan must align with the school climate standards that shall be developed and shall include the long list of the following protocols:

  • The contact information of someone designated by the School Climate Specialist, (and someone in their absence) to be notified by school employees of any incidents of challenging behavior that result in student discipline or removal from the classroom.
  • The process by which the designated administrator will assess the facts, severity and intentionality of an incident of challenging behavior.
  • Each designated location to which a student may be sent when a student is temporarily removed from a classroom and the supports that a student may receive at such location, including interventions, mental health supports, instructional materials and technology or other resources to address the temporary needs of the student.
  • Ways to address challenging behavior, increase de-escalation strategies and improve social and emotional skills, which may involve…restorative practices.
  • The safeguards established to ensure that any supports, services or interventions provided under this section to any student who receives special education or accommodations for a disability are provided.
  • Tiered responses, based on level of impact or frequency of occurrence, to incidents of challenging behavior that: (A) require temporarily clearing a classroom or removing a majority of students to reduce likelihood of injury, (B) indicate credible intention to cause bodily harm to self of others, or (C) result in an injury that requires medical attention beyond basic first aid or less severe injuries caused by the same person on more than one occasion, verified by the school nurse or other medical professional.
  • A requirement for the superintendent to provide the board of education annually with a report concerning the number of incidents that occurred during the prior year, the grade level of each student involved and the supports, services or interventions
  • A prohibition on the discrimination or retaliation against any person who reports or assists in the investigation of an incident of challenging behavior.
  • For incidents of challenging behavior as described above, a requirement for a meeting between an administrator and the school employee who witnessed such incident not less than two days after the incident to determine the supports and interventions provided and a process by which a teacher may request a behavior intervention meeting.  

    4.  Provide Training Effective Starting July 1, 2024 (PA 23-167 § 55)

Effective with the 2024-2025 school year, and each school year thereafter, school districts must provide training regarding social and emotional learning, school climate and research-based interventions, including but not limited to restorative practices.  The School Climate Coordinator shall select and approve who puts on the training.

5.  Adopt a Restorative Practices Policy (PA 23-167 § 74)

Commencing with the 2025-2026 school year, and each year thereafter, school districts shall adopt and implement a “restorative practices policy” for incidents of challenging behavior and student conflict that is nonviolent.  Such policy shall not include police involvement unless such behavior escalates to violence or constitutes a crime.  There is currently no guidance on the particular contents of this policy.

Which Employees Will Implement the New Law?

  1. The School Climate Coordinator (PA 23-167 § 52)

PA 23-167 directs the superintendent or an administrator appointed by the superintendent to serve as the School Climate Coordinator (“Coordinator”).  It also amends the Coordinator’s duties to include:

  • Provide leadership and support for the implementation of the School Climate Improvement Plan at each school.
  • Collaborate with the School Climate Specialist for each school to (A) develop strategies to prevent, identify and prevent challenging behavior, and (B) communicate such strategies to the school community through the student handbook, among other things.
  • Collect and maintain data regarding school climate improvement, including school discipline records.
  • Meet with the School Climate Specialists for each school at least twice per school year to (A) identify strategies to improve school climate, including but not limited to responding to challenging behaviors and implementing restorative practices, (B) propose recommendations for revisions to the School Climate Improvement Plan, and (C) assist with the completion of the School Climate Survey.

    2.  The School Climate Specialist (PA 23-167 § 51)

PA 23-167 likewise expands the duties of the current School Climate Specialist, who shall either be the principal at each school, or an employee holding a professional certificate and trained in school climate improvement who is appointed by the principal.  The responsibilities will include:

  • Leading in the identification, prevention and responses to challenging behavior at each school.
  • Implementing interventions, such as restorative practices.
  • Leading the School Climate Committee.
  • Leading the implementation of the School Climate Improvement Plan.

    3.  The School Climate Committee (PA 23-167 § 52)

Starting with the 2025-2026 school year, the School Climate Specialist must appoint a School Climate Committee (Committee) consisting of members who are racially, culturally and linguistically diverse.  The Committee shall consist of (1) the School Climate Specialist; (2) a teacher selected by the teachers’ union; (3) a demographically representative group of students; (4) families of students at the school; and (5) other members of the school community selected by the School Climate Specialist.

The duties of the Committee are aimed at school-specific tasks to address challenging behavior.  They include:

  • Assisting in the development and administration of the School Climate Survey.
  • Use the survey to identify strengths and weaknesses in school climate and to propose revisions to the School Climate Improvement Plan.
  • Advise on strategies to improve school climate, including the use of restorative practices in the school community.
  • Annually provide notice of the uniform bullying complaint form to the school community.
  • Meet with the school community at least twice per year to discuss the implementation of the School Climate Improvement Plan.

When Will Schools Have to Make these Changes?

The short answer is that all school districts must implement these changes for the 2025-2026 school year.  Schools may voluntarily comply with the new laws during the next two school years, although this will be difficult to do without the established standards or model bullying complaint form.  However, all schools must implement the new law in time for the 2025-2026 school year.  Training on school climate must begin during the 2024-2025 school year.

As further guidance appears and as the date for implementation draws closer, the attorneys in Pullman & Comley’s School Law Section are available to provide advice and counsel.  There will be more to come as events develop.

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Alerts, commentary, and insights from the attorneys of Pullman & Comley’s School Law practice on federal and Connecticut law as it pertains to educational institutions, whether those institutions be public school districts, private K-12 schools, or post-secondary colleges and universities.

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