Sa f e Sc h o o l S Re S e a R c h BR i e f 5
Th e ec o n o m i c co S T S o f Bu l l y i n g a T Sc h o o l
More than 200,000 students in California each year report being bullied based on actual or perceived sexual
orientation based on the 2001-2002 California Healthy Kids Survey (CHKS) that is 7.5% of students in the
7th, 9th, and 11th grades. This harassment is linked to risk behavior, poor grades, and emotional distress for
students. These personal costs are clearly important to individual students, but what are the economic costs
of harassment for the school system?
Data from the 2001-2002 CHKS also show that of the students who report harassment based on actual or
perceived sexual orientation, 27% said that they missed school at least one day during the past 30 days
because they felt unsafe. We use the California Department of Education’s Average Daily Attendance (ADA)
statistics to estimate the economic costs, or the unrealized income that California school districts would
have, if bias-motivated harassment were eliminated from schools. We also present information about the
legal costs of bias-motivated harassment based on recent legal action against unsafe California schools.
Key Finding:
Harassment based on actual or perceived sexual orientation
costs California school districts at least $39.9 million each year.
Each year, nearly 109,000 school absences at the middle and high school levels in California are due to
harassment based on actual or perceived sexual orientation. Based on the state's school expenditures over
a nine-month school calendar year, the cumulative cost to school districts in the State of California is an
estimated minimum of $39.9 million each year due to school absences when students feel unsafe to attend
school due to fear of being bullied based on their actual or perceived sexual orientation.
Additional Costs:
Legal action against unsafe California schools
In addition to the costs to districts of school absences due to feeling unsafe, several recent legal cases in
California highlight the costs to school districts when students take legal action because they have expe-
rienced harassment or discrimination based on their actual or perceived sexual orientation and have felt
unsafe at school.
Flores v. Morgan Hill Unified School District (N.D.Cal. 2003) 324 F.3d 1130: Suit brought on
behalf of six former students who were subjected to daily harassment and threats of physi-
cal violence and actual physical violence on the basis of their actual or perceived sexual
orientation and gender. Resolution: $1,100,000 settlement.
Massey v. Banning Unified School District (C.D.Cal. 2003) 256 F. Supp. 2d 1090: Eighth
grade student alleged she was prohibited from attending physical education class on the
basis of her sexual orientation. Resolution: $45,000 settlement.
Gay-Straight Alliance Network and Loomis v. Visalia Unified School District (E.D.Cal. 2002,
No. 1:00-CV-06616-OWW-LJO): Student plaintiff, alleged verbal harassment and name
calling by teachers and students, spit on in hallway, put in independent study program
(thereby losing ability to attend any U.C. school), subjected to sexually suggestive touch-
ing. Resolution: $130,000 settlement.
Ray v. Antioch (N.D.Cal. 2000) 107 F. Supp. 2d 1165: Plaintiff was harassed, threatened,
insulted, taunted and abused based on perpetrators’ perceptions of his sexual orientation
and because his mother’s identification as transgender, beaten by another student causing
concussion, hearing impairment, severe and permanent headache, psychological injury,
urine soaked towels thrown on him. Resolution: Undisclosed financial settlement.
O.H. v. Oakland (N.D.Cal, April 17, 2000, No. C-99-5123 JCS) 2000 WL 33376299: Harassment,
intimidation, physical abuse because of perceived sexual orientation, raped three times by
another student who forced him to leave campus at knife point. Resolution: Undisclosed
financial settlement.
Ramelli and Donovan v. Poway Unified School District (Superior Ct., San Diego County,
2005, No.GIC 823157). Jury found that plaintiffs were victims of severe and pervasive”
harassment, and that complaints about harassment were met with “deliberate indiffer-
ence” by school administrators. Resolution: The trial court awarded $300,000 in damages
combined with attorneys’ fees of $421,357. Attorneys’ fees for the appeal are yet to be
(Cal. Fourth Appellate Dist., Case No. D047199)
Paramo v. Kern (Superior Ct., Kern County, 2005, No.1500-CV-255519). Principal and other
school officials attempted to censor material relevant to LGBT students from school news-
paper. Resolution: Undisclosed financial settlement.
Ramirez v. Los Angeles Unified School Dist. (C.D.Cal. 2004, No. 2:04-cv-08923, 2004)
Complaint alleged that administrators allowed a climate rife with hostility towards and
discrimination against students and staff based on their actual or perceived sexual orienta-
tion” to fester at Washington Preparatory High School. Resolution: Undisclosed financial
What School Districts Can Do:
California law explicitly protects students from harassment and discrimination on the basis of actual or
perceived sexual orientation and gender identity, appearance and behavior. Teachers, counselors and other
school personnel need training in this area, but a recent school policy survey shows that such training is
uncommon. Compared to the unrealized state funding due to school absences or potential litigation, the
cost of prevention of training administrative and teaching personnel to create safe school climates is
According to the California Safe Schools Coalition’s Safe Schools Policy Survey, less than half of school dis-
tricts in California currently require trainings on how to address discrimination and harassment based on
sexual orientation for their elementary, middle or high schools teachers (see Figure 1). Also, only 54% of
districts require that all of their counselors receive such training.
Safe SchoolS ReSeaRch BRief The Economic Costs of Bullying at School
Elementary school
Middle school
High school
34.3% 34.4%
Required for All
Required for Some
or Available
None are Trained
Figure 1
About the Research:
To document harassment and associated problems for youth and schools, we examine data from the
2001-2002 California Healthy Kids Survey (CHKS). The CHKS is designed by WestEd under contract from the
California Department of Education and administered by school districts. The 2001-2002 data analyzed for
this study included 7th, 9th, and 11th graders. A total of 237,544 students answered the question about
whether they had been harassed or bullied at school because they were gay or lesbian or someone thought
they were. In addition, the survey asked students how many times in the past year they had been bullied
on school property and defined bullying as “being repeatedly shoved, hit, threatened, called mean names,
teased in a way you didn’t like, or had other unpleasant things done to you. It is not bullying when two
students of about the same strength quarrel or fight.” In an optional module that a subset of schools
administered, students were asked: “During the past 30 days, on how many days did you not go to school
because you felt unsafe at school or on your way to or from school?” A total of 49,052 students answered
two questions about 1) missing school because they felt unsafe and 2) being bullied because of actual or
perceived sexual orientation.
The California Safe Schools Coalition’s Safe Schools Policy Survey was designed to improve understanding
of successes and challenges in local efforts to create safe schools and reduce harassment in schools. In the
summer of 2004 we mailed surveys to every school district in the state. We received responses from 359, or
approximately 36% (out of 1219) of the districts in California, representing 3,478,000 students or 56% of
the students in California schools.
Calculating the costs:
The Average Daily Attendance (ADA) is calculated as follows:
We calculated the costs for the 2001- 2002 fiscal year, using data from the California Department of
At the same time, Figure 2 shows that almost 40% of districts expressed interest in working with community
groups who provide training and curriculum on addressing discrimination and harassment based on sexual
orientation and gender identity. Such training could reduce harassment because of actual or perceived
sexual orientation, and would protect districts from legal liability.
Safe SchoolS ReSeaRch BRief The Economic Costs of Bullying at School
Not Sure
Not Interested
Figure 2
Average Daily Attendance =
State Cost ($) per Student per Day = = = $40.62
Total Days of Student Attendance
Total Days of Instruction
Annual State Expenditures per ADA
Number of School Days/Year
Safe SchoolS ReSeaRch BRief The Economic Costs of Bullying at School
California Safe Schools Coalition • 1550 Bryant Street, Suite 800 • San Francisco, CA 94103 •
1. Information about legal cases from Fifteen Expensive Reasons why Safe Schools Legislation is in your State’s Best
Interest, published by National Center on Lesbian Rights and GLSEN, available at:
2. More information available at:
3. California Department of Education, Regional Occupational Centers and Programs (ROCP) Apportionment Data for
2001-02, available at:
4. California Department of Education, 8: Public school summary statistics report for 2001-02, available at: http://www.
5. For students who reported missing “2-3” school days, calculations were estimated conservatively based on missing 2
days of school; calculations for “4 or more” were estimated based on missing 4 days of school only.
Thanks to the following individuals and organizations for their contributions: the members of the California Safe Schools
Coalition Research and Evaluation Committee, The UCLA School of Law Williams Institute, particularly Lee Badgett.
This material is based upon work supported in part by the UCLA School of Law. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions
or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of UCLA
or the Williams Institute.
Suggested citation:
Russell, S. T., Talmage, C., Laub, C., & Manke, E. (2009). The Economic Costs of Bullying at School. (California Safe Schools
Coalition Research Brief No. 5). San Francisco, CA: California Safe Schools Coalition.
7.5% of students were bullied because of actual or perceived sexual orientation (7th, 9th, and 11th
26.6% of students who were bullied because of actual or perceived sexual orientation during the past
12 months also reported that they missed school during the past 30 days because they felt unsafe.
The table below shows the calculation of the number of times students reported missing school because
they felt unsafe for the students who reported being bullied because of actual or perceived sexual
The total enrollment for the 2001-2002 school year in the state of California was 2,678,791.
We conservatively estimate the annual cost based on a nine month school year, or 180 school days.
Number of days missed
4 or more
% Harassed because of actual
or perceived sexual orienta-
tion and missed school:
# of Absences
(Total Cost)/(Month)
# of School Months
(Total Cost)/(Year)
$ 4,434,399.58
$ 39,909,596.25