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Bullying and the Law

Bullying can have a profound impact on the lives of school students. It can affect not only their mental health but also their academic performance. Several laws and policies help prevent bullying and protect students' civil rights. Bullying has become a national epidemic among school-aged children in America. It is a major concern to most schools today.

Because bullying can take many forms, it can go unnoticed by teachers and parents. With social media and the internet, cyberbullying has increased as well. Bullying on school campuses can escalate to serious violence and harm. Educators and parents need to understand what bullying is. They should also know how to help prevent it.

This section provides an overview of bullying.

What Is Bullying?

Bullying is a repeated and intentional act of causing harm to others. Bullying is a term that refers to verbal, physical, or psychological attacks by a student on another child. The student might intend to harass, intimidate, or cause physical harm to them. It can take place anywhere. Bullying can happen on school property or during school-sponsored events. It can also happen online through electronic communication at any time.

Bullying can occur in these different forms:

  1. Physical bullying: Involves actions such as hitting, pushing, or damaging a student's property. This can happen anywhere, from the classroom to the school bus.
  2. Verbal bullying: Involves the use of words to belittle or demean others. This includes name-calling or teasing based on certain attributes. Examples of these attributes include gender identity, sexual orientation, or national origin.
  3. Cyberbullying: Involves electronic communication, including social media, texting, or email. It causes extra concern since it can follow students outside the school environment.

Bullying can also take the form of sexual harassment or hazing. School officials must investigate any reported incident. Local laws can impose sanctions.

Are There Laws Against Bullying?

Yes. Many jurisdictions have passed state laws to prevent bullying in schools. States across the U.S. have enacted specific anti-bullying laws. These laws force school districts to develop and install comprehensive bullying prevention policies. This might encompass student conduct guidelines for professional development for the school staff.

These state laws often mandate regular reporting of bullying incidents. They might also outline clear procedures for investigating reports. The laws might demand schools to take appropriate disciplinary action to ensure school safety.

Examples of specific behavior that these laws generally construe as bullying include:

  • Wearing gang paraphernalia
  • Spreading rumors and posting harmful or degrading material using social media
  • Taunting or making sexual slurs about a person's gender orientation or sexual status
  • Name-calling, joking, or making offensive remarks. Offensive remarks include comments about a person's religion, gender, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status.
  • Physical acts of bullying, such as punching, slapping, or tripping someone

Federal laws do not directly address bullying. But, schools or school districts may face charges of First Amendment and other constitutional violations. Suppose bullying takes place at a school. The school expels the bullying perpetrator. The school does not give the expelled student a hearing by the school board. This may be a violation of the student's due process rights under the Fifth and 14th amendments. The accused student could also argue that the school is violating their right to free speech under the First Amendment.

Is Your Child a Bully, or Is Someone Bullying Them?

Bullying is a national epidemic that impacts children, parents, and teachers. Parents can help by watching for warning signs. Look for signs that someone is bullying your child or your child is bullying others. Failing to stop bullying has resulted in severe repercussions for schools. It can also lead to severe consequences for bullies and some parents of bullies.

Signs that your child is a bully include:

  • Your child has repeated behavioral problems in and out of school
  • Your child displays aggression toward siblings at home
  • Your child has a preoccupation with popularity or social status (especially in high school)
  • Your child has possession of unexplained money or property

If you suspect your child is engaging in bullying behavior, you should address the issue directly with your child. You should consider trying to understand the underlying reasons for their conduct. You may also seek guidance from school personnel.

A school principal or counselor can help. They can provide support and resources to help address this behavior. They can do this per the school's bullying policy and code of conduct.

What To Do if Someone Bullies Your Child

Parents should also be aware of situations where their child is the victim of bullying. Children sometimes don't want to speak about their victimization. Observe and communicate with your child. Communication with your child's school can also help determine when they are struggling.

Warning signs of bullying include:

  • Your child has unexplained bumps, cuts, or bruises
  • Your child isolates themselves at home and school
  • Your child does not enjoy school to the extent they once did
  • Your child asks to miss school or misses school days frequently
  • Your child's school work quality has declined
  • Your child displays symptoms of depression, moodiness, or sadness
  • Your child has low self-esteem
  • Your child undergoes appetite changes
  • Your child takes alternate routes to school
  • Your child complains about physical illnesses
  • Your child has trouble sleeping or recurring nightmares

Early intervention can prevent lasting harm to your child's mental health. It can also help prevent declines in your child's academic performance and well-being. Recognizing and addressing bullying promptly allows parents to collaborate with school officials. It also enables you to get resources to protect the child.

If you notice signs that someone is bullying your child, you can file a formal complaint alleging your child has been a victim of bullying. You can request that school administrators take immediate action under the school's bullying policy.

School Climate and Bullying Prevention

Creating a positive school environment is essential for bullying prevention. The school district and board of education must develop clear rules. They do this through a code of conduct that applies to all public school students. This includes ensuring schools respect every student's ability to learn. Students deserve to learn regardless of gender identity, sexual orientation, or national origin.

The U.S. Department of Education has developed model policies for bullying prevention. These policies include methods for anonymous reporting of bullying incidents. Schools should integrate these policies into the school year's student handbook. Each school board should adopt them into a district policy.

School officials, school administrators, school staff, and other school employees play a crucial role. They help maintain a positive school environment. Schools must train them through professional development programs to recognize incidents of bullying. They must also take appropriate disciplinary action. This includes charter schools, which must also follow the rules and regulations about bullying. The schools must carry out anti-bullying measures in good faith.

School administrators may make referrals to counseling or other support services for students. They can connect the victim and the perpetrator with appropriate resources. These resources can help the students address the underlying issues. Community members must also involve themselves in bullying prevention, including parents and guardians. They can help the school principal and other designees maintain a safe school climate.

Special Education Students

Schools must pay special attention to the protection of people with disabilities. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) protects their rights. Discriminatory practices, such as bullying based on disability, fall under Title IX. Title IX protects civil rights in public education programs.

For more helpful information, visit FindLaw's subsection on Education Support and Services for Students with Disabilities.

Getting Legal Help With Bullying

Bullying in schools is a complex issue. This issue requires the combined efforts of the community and can involve law enforcement. We can better protect students by fostering a respectful school environment and following the law. All students have a right to a safe and supportive education. We can create a culture that prioritizes the well-being and success of all students in the public school system.

If you or your child is facing a legal issue related to bullying, contact an education lawyer or a criminal defense lawyer to protect your rights.

Learn About Bullying and the Law

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