As the fall semester starts to get underway, students are dealing with a whole host of new issues from mandatory masks to social distancing. Unfortunately, one problem that many will confront is not new at all…though it has increased at a shocking rate over the past few years. According to the National Bullying Prevention Center, 1 out of every 5 children in school today reports being bullied while in school. This represents a thirty-five percent (35%) increase over the past five years.
Bullying is a repeated pattern of harassment, intimidation or aggression which most often takes the form of physical violence, the perpetuation of rumors or the intentional exclusion from social and academic groups. Research shows that, in addition to physical injuries, school bullying leads to depression, substance abuse and suicidal tendencies (a particularly important statistic because parallel research has also shown that over the last several months of 2020 teenage suicidal ideation has increased dramatically). Knowing these impacts, it is vitally important that parents, teachers and administrators do everything possible to put an end to bullying whenever and wherever possible.
Bullying takes place in just a few places (according to NBPC statistics) including school hallways/stairwells, cafeterias, locker rooms and busses. Nearly 80% of all bullying events take place on school grounds. This means that schools are in the best position to prevent this behavior, but it also means that that they have a legal responsibility to do so. Unfortunately, schools often fail to react even when the evidence of bullying is right in front of them and therefore it is important for parents to know their rights.
Of course, schools are not legally responsible for every act of bullying that takes place. Teachers and administrators simply don’t have the ability to know what is happening every minute of the school day as they keep track of, and educate, hundred of students simultaneously. However, where schools know (or should reasonably know) that a child is being harmed they have an absolute legal obligation to act.
This is why it is vitally important that parents work to identify whether their child is being bullied and proactively reach out to administrators. Setting an in-person meeting and following up in writing (via letter or email) is a great step to obtaining help but it also documents the problem so that the school is “on notice” that a problem is occurring. In rare cases when the school administration fails and refuses to act, parents should send written correspondence to the school board offices and attempt (in writing) to schedule a meeting with district staff. If they fail to act in the face of this threat, and violence or harm results, parents now have a legal remedy at their disposal.
Schools are primarily meant to educate children but in doing so they undertake a much larger responsibility for their health and welfare. Every child has the absolute right to an appropriate education in a safe and nurturing environment, free from any threat of violence of harassment. If your child is experiencing physical or emotional trauma at the hands of another student, teacher or school employee you need to take action, which may include contacting an attorney to help you preserve your rights.
The law firm of Lesser, Lesser, Landy & Smith, PLLC has been assisting clients with injury claims for more than ninety years and always offers a free, confidential consultation to determine whether your rights are being violated.
This blog was written, attorney Josh Ferraro.