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Bullying

"Bullying" refers to verbal, physical, or mental acts committed by a student to harass, intimidate, or cause harm to another student. Bullying in schools can severely impact students' mental health, well-being, and overall safety. Students, including those with disabilities, face it on school grounds. They might also suffer bullying on school bus rides, at school-sponsored activities, and online.

Bullying may include verbal threats and physical assault. It can consist of intimidation or other inappropriate behavior. This can include harassmentdisorderly conduct, and acts that disturb the peace. Bullying on school campuses is a growing concern. Parents, school districts, and students should be aware of the severe violations and violence that may occur as a result of bullying.

This section discusses the issue of bullying, disciplinary actions, and student protection.

Anti-Bullying State Laws

In each U.S. state, specific laws govern student behavior, student conduct, and student discipline in the school setting. Several states have passed laws to address intimidation, harassment, and bullying in schools. These anti-bullying laws are meant to promote school safety. They also help improve truancy rates and reduce school violence, among other things. The law requires schools to create specific policies for prevention, training, and enforcement.

Students who violate anti-bullying provisions face in-school suspension, out-of-school suspension, and expulsion. Schools and districts may face hefty monetary fines arising from civil liability claims. The goal is to have a positive school climate where students can learn without fear.

Examples of specific behavior that constitutes bullying include:

  • Wearing gang paraphernalia and other clothing meant to intimidate or exclude another
  • Spreading rumors or misinformation
  • Posting harmful or explicit pictures, messages, or information using social media or electronic communication, also known as cyberbullying
  • Taunting or making sexual slurs about a person's gender orientation or sexual status
  • Name-calling, joking, or making offensive remarks
  • Physical acts of bullying, such as punching, slapping, or tripping

School administrators or their designees have the authority to enforce disciplinary action. They may do this on school property. This ensures students abide by laws during school days during the school year. They must ensure all students are treated fairly. This includes students receiving special education services.

Board policy and local laws often require school staff to report any observed bullying behavior to school officials. These laws also mandate professional development for school personnel. This training ensures employees understand and handle bullying effectively. These policies aim to keep the school safe for all students, from kindergarten through high school. Regardless of grade level, all students in the school community deserve to feel safe at school.

Federal Anti-Bullying Laws

Federal laws do not specifically address bullying per se. However, a school or district can be charged with violating certain federal laws. Schools may violate the First Amendment, Title IV, Title IX, and other laws. Some parents might sue the school or district. State laws also govern school districts. States have also passed their own state laws against bullying.

The Supreme Court has also made decisions on this subject. For example, the Supreme Court has held that parents can sue the school in certain situations. In the case of Davis v. Monroe County Board of Education parents sued the school for failing to take action on a sexual harassment claim after they learned about it.

There is no federal anti-bullying law, but bullying can overlap with discriminatory harassment. The U.S. Department of Education is committed to safe schools and student learning environments. They enforce civil rights laws under the Office of Civil Rights

These laws prohibit bullying based on race, color, or national origin. They also prevent discrimination based on sex, disability, and sexual orientation. This happens when a student is part of a protected class of people. When bullying happens, schools are legally obligated to address the issue.

Students with disabilities have increased protection from the federal government. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 protect these students. Under these laws, students can have an Individualized Education Program (IEP). These plans are implemented to ensure that these students receive appropriate educational services.

Disciplinary Measures and Interventions

When it comes to penalties for bullying, schools have various options. The school board may use disciplinary actions like detention, suspension, or expulsion. School officials can involve a law enforcement agency if the bullying involves a misdemeanor or other criminal acts. These acts include physical harm, causing bodily injury, or use of force. Law enforcement officers should be called if this occurs.

Schools may also focus on behavioral interventions. For example, an intervention plan might be created. This plan can include alternative education strategies and counseling. It may also have a referral to mental health services. These methods help address and correct the student's behavior over a period of time.

If students bully others, they might be suspended or even kicked out of their school or district. They could also have to pay money in fines or end up in jail, depending on what they did. If a school district does not do enough to stop or punish bullying, it could also owe a substantial amount in fines.

Recognizing Signs of Bullying in Your Child

Detecting bullying in your child can be challenging, but there are some key signs to watch out for. A significant shift in their behavior might show they are dealing with bullying. Here are some common signs to look out for:

  • Frequent absences: They might start by missing school more often. Their school attendance may be decreasing. A sudden, unexplained increase in absence can indicate that your child is trying to avoid a bully.
  • Disruptive behavior: They might exhibit disruptive behavior at home. This is a potential response to the stress and anxiety caused by bullying.
  • Missing school functions: A student experiencing bullying may withdraw from school functions. This can include extracurricular activities and school-sponsored activities.

Parents should also find out whether their child might be bullying other children. Finding out if your child is a bully requires close observation of them. Watch for signs of aggression, lack of empathy, and a consistent pattern of getting in trouble at school or with peers. These can be indicators of bullying behavior. 

Bullying can sometimes be linked to controlled substances. This is because students who bully may use these substances to exert power and control over their peers. Similarly, persistent bullying can impact a bully's enrollment. This can lead to frequent withdrawal and absences.

Pursuant to the United States Code (U.S.C.), public schools are required to ensure a safe environment. They should all be free from bullying and hazing. If a school employee is aware of bullying, they must report it. This will lead to appropriate school discipline. As parents, you must talk with your children regularly. Remind them that safe schools are their right. It is okay to speak up if something is wrong.

Ensuring Safety Beyond School Grounds

Bullying can extend beyond the physical boundaries of a school building. It can occur during extracurricular activities, en route to or from school, or online. School-related safety extends to these areas. School officials can take disciplinary action. Moreover, states are also developing laws to address cyberbullying.

The safety of students is a shared responsibility of school personnel, students, and parents. Keeping the school environment safe for each individual student is important. Bullying can infringe on the civil rights of individuals. It disrupts the learning environment and adversely affects the school climate. As such, it is an issue that requires continuous attention. It requires comprehensive policies in the code of student conduct and stringent laws for prevention and intervention.

Legal Assistance and Due Process

Parents may want to seek legal help if the bullying is severe. It is important to note that, by law, students are entitled to due process rights. That means students have a right to be informed of the charges against them and to be heard on these charges. Usually, this must be in the form of written notice. They have a right to tell their side of the story before severe disciplinary action is taken.

A lawyer can provide valuable assistance in these cases. They can help the student and the student's parents understand the complexities of state and federal laws. They can help you understand district policies from the state board.

Talk to an education lawyer today.

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