During the past few years, the problem of school bullying has gained national prominence. Scholars, policy-makers, and media outlets have belatedly begun to address the long-term physical consequences of bullying for children, as well as the corrosive effect of this destructive conduct on the learning environment. Because the problem is complex and multi-factored, however, solutions remain elusive.

This article examines and compares two approaches to dealing with bullying. First, litigation is considered as a way of responding to the most serious cases. Suing school districts that allow bullying to go unchecked can be helpful: victims are often entitled to compensation, officials in other school districts can be deterred by news of liability against other schools, and the ability to have one’s story heard in court can be a powerful balm in some cases. Yet litigation has substantial limitations. It is only an option in a small number of cases involving the most serious harms, but most bullying does not result in that level of injury. And even where settlements compel a student to create anti-bullying initiatives, often the resulting programs are designed to avoid litigation rather than to address the deeper issues that cause bullying in the first place.

With the limitations of a litigation strategy thus described, the article moves on to consider how a public health approach can lead to better outcomes. Public health takes account of all affected populations, and is committed to an evidence-based model of problem-solving. The article examines state laws and policies for fit with sound public health principles, and provides analysis of how these initiatives might result in an overall reduction in the incidence and prevalence of bullying.