Education Law

Harassment at School

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Being picked on by a school bully is frightening for your child, and frustrating for you. Ignoring a bully is never the answer. The faster you act, the better your chance of controlling the bully's behavior.

What Is Bullying?

Bullying can take many forms, including:

  • Sexual harassment of another student
  • Teasing and excluding
  • Name calling
  • Physically pushing, hitting or otherwise attacking
  • Threatening or hazing
  • Damaging or stealing belongings
  • Demanding money

School Sexual Harassment

Title IX of the Federal Education Amendments of 1972 makes it illegal for any public school receiving federal funding to discriminate on the basis of sex. Recent federal court cases give parents of children sexually harassed in schools a right to sue their school districts, where:

  • The school district knew of the harassment and deliberately ignored it
  • The harassment was so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive it deprived the victims of access to the educational opportunities or benefits provided by the school

What Can You Do As a Parent?

If your child is sexually harassed or bullied by another student, it's best to take action right away. Don't wait for the students to work it out themselves.

Talk to teachers and the school principal immediately, as soon as you find out the specific facts. It's important to document times, places and witnesses carefully, so you can give detailed information to school authorities. Take photos of any injuries, and have your child write down a detailed description of what happened.

If other students are also harassed by the same bully, encourage their parents to speak up to school officials. School representatives are more likely to respond immediately if they see the problem as widespread.

If talking to teachers and your principal doesn't bring results within a couple of days, write a letter to the principal and school district superintendent. Outline the facts and demand an immediate response to the problem. Many public schools have adopted zero tolerance policies against bullying in the aftermath of nationally-publicized school violence incidents. There is increased awareness and sensitivity to bullying.

Call the Police

Call the police right away if there is a physical assault of any type. This includes shoving, hitting, kicking, slapping, tripping and hair-pulling. The police can investigate and check to see if the bully has a juvenile record. Even if there's no prior record, the bully will hopefully end up in juvenile court - and possibly detention - as a result of the incident.

The police can help you get a restraining or anti-harassment order to keep the school bully a safe distance from your child.

Talk to a Lawyer

If your child has been physically or sexually assaulted by another student, talk with a local attorney right away. Attorneys who sue public school districts or concentrate in personal injury lawsuits may be best suited to help you.

Lobby for Anti-Bullying Laws

Once you've resolved the particular bullying situation you're concerned about, consider lobbying for and supporting laws to punish school bullies in your state. If your school district has an anti-bullying policy, but isn't following up with specific education programs or consistent enforcement, it's important to speak out. Your efforts can help spare other children from bullying.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • What should I do if my child is teased because of his race or color?
  • My daughter is the subject of vicious rumors at school. Is this bullying? Is it a crime or the basis for a lawsuit?
  • Can you write a letter to my child's school principal to let her know I am serious about wanting the school to stop bullying against my child?

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