At the grade school and high school level, bullying is defined as intentional and repeated abuse aimed at one student by another, or by a group of others. Bullying can be physical, such as tripping, kicking, hair-pulling. or punching. It can also be psychological, such as name-calling, taunts, or tricks meant to humiliate a student. Physical and psychological bullying are both against the law.
Almost All States Prohibit Bullying
As of 2012, 49 states have passed legislation to protect bullying victims. The laws typically require schools to educate students about the effects of bullying and to set procedures in place for shielding students from bullying behavior. Some policies require disciplinary procedures to deal with bullies. At least one state requires that schools post a list of bullying incidents on their websites. Another state requires teachers to report bullying to child protective services.
Bullying Is a Criminal Offense
In addition to state laws that place obligations on schools, bullying can also be a criminal offense. Teachers and parents can contact law enforcement to request investigations into suspected incidents of abuse and assault. They can also report incidents of repeated harassment, even when one minor child commits these things against another minor. In some states, teachers can be held criminally liable for turning a blind eye to bullying. This is called deliberate indifference.
Bullies Can Be Held Civilly Liable
Parents of victims can hold bullies - as well as schools, teachers and staff - civilly liable for bullying as well. Civil law involves tort claims. Tort law holds individuals or institutions legally responsible for harmful wrongdoing. The wrongdoing can result in monetary damages paid to the victim, even if the bully or the school isn't criminally charged. Parents can also bring lawsuits against schools if they violate their state's anti-bullying statutes.
Federal Law May Apply, Too
In some situations, federal law may also apply to bullying. It's against the law to discriminate against certain protected groups of people. Discrimination includes bullying tactics, and federal law would apply if a child is being bullied because of race, religion, disability, or gender. However, some discrimination falls outside federal law. For example, individuals don't fall into a protected group because of their sexual orientation or their family's economic status. If you're unsure if the cause of your child's bullying is protected, speak with a lawyer.
Some state laws apply only to public schools. Private schools may be exempt from legislative rules to protect the victims of bullies. However, federal, criminal, and civil laws would still typically address the problem.
An Education Lawyer Can Help
The law surrounding the problem of bullying in grade school and high school is complicated. Plus, the facts of each case are unique. This article provides a brief, general introduction to the topic. For more detailed, specific information, please contact an education lawyer.