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SCHOOL BULLYING LAWYER

BULLYING IN SCHOOL

In-school bullying is a very serious matter and should not be taken lightly. Bullying has been linked to negative educational and mental health outcomes for both victims and bullies. Bullying has become more harmful and pervasive in recent years due to the upsurge of cyberbullying,

a type of bullying in which smartphones or other electronic devices are used to intimidate or humiliate another individual. If you suspect your child may be the victim of bullying, it is important to know what to look for, what steps you can take, and what legal actions can be initiated against schools, teachers, and bullies.

WHAT IS BULLYING?

Bullying is any unwanted, aggressive behavior among school-aged children, which includes a power imbalance – such as popularity or physical strength – and repetition or threats of repetition.[1] Bullying can be verbal, for example teasing or name calling; social, such as spreading rumors about someone, excluding someone from social activities, or influencing others not to be friends with someone; or, physical, including hitting, kicking, tripping, pinching, spitting, breaking someone’s possessions, or making rude gestures at someone.

 Bullying can, and often does, happen outside of school hours, such as on the playground or the school bus. One particularly worrying place bullying occurs is on the Internet. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in a 2017 study that 14.9% of high school students stated they were electronically bullied.[2] Cyberbullying is harder to detect than other kinds of bullying because parents and educators may not see or overhear when cyberbullying takes place. It is also difficult for victims of cyberbullying because bullies have 24-hour access through digital devices and they can continuously harass their victims, often in permanent and public forums online.

WHAT ARE THE WARNING SIGNS A CHILD IS BEING BULLIED?

Not all children who are bullied show warning signs, but there are some common indicators that bullying may be a problem, such as: injuries the child cannot or does not explain, lost or destroyed property, stomachaches or headaches, feeling sick or faking sick to stay home from school, difficulty sleeping or nightmares, loss or increase of appetite, a decline in school performance, avoidance of social activities or loss of friends, low self-esteem, self destructive behavior, and most concerning, self-harm or talking about thoughts of suicide.

 Any change to your child’s behavior or demeanor could be an indicator of potential bullying. If you notice anything out of the ordinary, it is important to talk to your child and try to pinpoint the issue and determine if you or your child’s educators should get involved. If you believe you’re your child may harm themselves, it is important to seek professional help right away.

HOW DOES THE LAW DEFINE BULLYING?

 Under the Pennsylvania anti-bullying law, bullying is described as any intentional electronic, written, verbal, or physical act or acts that interfere with a student’s education, create a threatening environment, or disrupt orderly operation of the school.[3] The act or acts must be directed at a student or group of students and must be severe, persistent, or pervasive. The law protects against bullying in school, on school grounds, in school vehicles or at designated bus stops and at any activity sponsored, supervised, or sanctioned by the school in question. The law covers cyberbullying and can encompass acts of bullying that occur outside of the school environment.

DO SCHOOLS HAVE ANY RESPONSIBILITY TO PREVENT BULLYING?

 The Pennsylvania anti-bullying law requires school districts and educators to take steps to prevent and respond to bullying behavior. School districts are required to have a policy regarding bullying that defines what acts constitute bullying, states what disciplinary actions will be taken if the policy is violated, and elects a designated staff-member to review all bullying claims. Public school employees must also be trained in school safety, including training related to bullying awareness and mental health.

CAN BULLYING VIOLATE MY CHILD’S CIVIL RIGHTS?

Schools that receive federal funding must respond appropriately to every instance of bullying that qualifies as harassment of students based on their protected class status. Harassment based on race, gender, or disability is illegal under federal law. If a school fails to adequately address such harassment, they could be violating one or more federal civil rights laws.

Pennsylvania law also protects against unfair educational practices and prohibits schools from discriminating based on race, religion, color, ancestry, national origin, sex, handicap, or disability of any student. If a school is engaging in discriminatory practices, courts can order corrective action and even reimbursement of attorney fees and costs.

WHAT IF MY CHILD WITH A DISABILITY IS BEING BULLIED?

Special protections exist for children with disabilities under both federal and state law. If your child has a disability that entitles them to receive special education (if they have an Individualized Education Program “IEP”), then their rights are protected under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The IDEA is a federal law that requires children with disabilities receive a free appropriate public education (FAPE). If bullying is preventing a child with a disability from receiving a FAPE, then legal action can be taken to obtain additional benefits, services, opportunities, and even reimbursement for services and attorney fees from the school district.

Similarly, if your child receives accommodations under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (commonly known as a “504 Plan”), or Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, there are federal laws that protect against harassment if the harassment denies the student equal educational opportunities. Federal law requires public schools take immediate and appropriate action to investigate bullying and take necessary steps to prevent the bullying from recurring.

WHAT LEGAL REMEDIES ARE AVAILABLE IF MY CHILD IS BEING BULLIED?

Students who engage in certain kinds of bullying can face suspension, expulsion and even in some cases civil fines or criminal penalties. School districts can also be on the hook for civil law fines if they fail to appropriately address or discipline certain types of bullying behavior. If your child has an IEP or a 504 Plan, there are additional protections against bullying and special requirements for school districts to respond appropriately to bullying.

Unfortunately, bullying is an everyday occurrence for many students. It is important to talk to your children if you suspect that they may be victims of bullying. If your child is a victim of bullying and their school fails to appropriately address the problem, it may be time to enlist the help of a qualified attorney to help protect your child’s rights and put a stop to the problem.  If you feel as though your child has been the victim of bullying, please contact a lawyer at Montgomery Law today for your free consultation. 215-650-7563.

 [Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is intended to be used for informational purposes only. This information should be relied on as legal advice, nor construed creating of any form of an attorney-client relationship.]

[1] https://www.stopbullying.gov/what-is-bullying/index.html
[2] https://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/data/yrbs/pdf/trendsreport.pdf
[3] 24 Pa. Stat. §§ 13-1301A−13-1313-A.