Bullying at school is certainly in the news. Just this week another twelve year old leapt to her death after allegedly being bullied for a year. This is a tragedy. Will the school district be liable? We shall see.
The fact bullying and cyberbullying occur alone are not enough for school districts to be liable. Rather, a school or district official who has the power to address bullying must have actual knowledge of the bullying and/or harassment which is occurring. If bullying goes on but no one tells an administrator who can do something about it, or no official witnesses the bullying, liability may not lie (see the U. S. Supreme Court cases Davis v. Monroe County Board of Education and Gebser v. Lago Vista Independent School District).
Bullying can have dreadful effects. It can lead to suicide, murder, isolation, failures in school and other negative impacts. As families may not have access to bullies, the schools and police often must be involved for bullies to stop. However this presumes parents KNOW about the bullying in the first place. This may not be the case.
A bullied student may not tell their parents they are being targeted due to embarrassment or thinking they can handle it on their own. They may even believe they deserve the treatment due to a diminishing self-esteem. They may feel worthless and trapped in a cycle which will never end. Do you remember being a teenager? Didn't it seem like childhood would never end and that you knew and could handle everything yourself? That your parents knew less than you? Today's youth go through the same thing. Because of this, parents MUST get nosy and investigate what is going on in their child's life, on-line and off. Internet sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. need to be reviewed to ensure nothing untoward is happening. Cell phones need to be checked. Inquiries need to be made before it is too late.
Once bullying is discovered, it needs to promptly be reported to school officials via the district/school official bullying process (see California Education Code §234.1 which requires districts to have a complaint and investigation process). Once a report is made, it then needs to be followed up on to ensure that something effective is done.
Schools can investigate situations, interview kids and potential witnesses, impose in-house or out of school suspensions, involuntary transfers and even expulsions depending on what they find.
In most situations, reports of bullying will result in action by the school or school district. If an inadequate or no response issues, parents need to seek legal help to solve their issues before the bullying leads to tragedy. Parents, please get into your kids' lives, before they end up as headlines in the daily news due to bullying of which you were never aware.
Education Law Attorney
LAW OFFICE OF MICHELLE BALL
717 K Street, Suite 228
Sacramento, CA 95814