Gone are the days when bullying was considered a “rite of passage” and parents whose children have been bullied are told things like “teach them to stand up for themselves” and that “boys will boys.” We know now that bullying has serious has a serious lifelong impact on a child, and that it has been linked to the current rash of school shootings. While laws on the books are being strengthened, the enforcement of those laws is lagging behind. It’s time to hold schools accountable for the harm due to the psychological impact of bullying o their students.
According to National Voices for Equality, Education and Enlightenment (NVEEE)“Every 7 MINUTES a child is bullied. Adult intervention – 4%. Peer intervention – 11%. No intervention – 85%.” Students who bully others, are bullied, or witness bullying are more likely to report high levels of suicide-related behavior than students who report no involvement in bullying (Center for Disease Control, 2014). These harsh facts have led to stronger laws to protect students from bullying, but enforcement is lagging behind. It is now clear that the psychological impact of bullying can be devastating.
The United States Office for Civil Rights, issued directives to expand existing laws (The Civil Rights Act of 1964, Titles VI and IX; The Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Section 504; and the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990, Title II) to address bullying. School Districts can now be held liable for peer harassment based on race, color, national origin, sex or disability when it is “serious enough” that it creates a “hostile environment” and when harassment is “tolerated, encouraged, not adequately addressed or ignored by school employees.” This put the onus on school officials to take immediate action to not just follow up on complaints, but to monitor for unreported bullying that is taking place at their school.
StopBullying.gov, an official website of the United State Government, suggests that parents look for these warning signs that your child might be a victim of bullying:
- Unexplainable injuries
- Lost or destroyed clothing, books, electronics, or jewelry;
- Frequent headaches or stomach aches, feeling sick or faking illness;
- Changes in eating habits, like suddenly skipping meals or binge eating. Kids may come home from school hungry because they did not eat lunch;
- Difficulty sleeping or frequent nightmares;
- Declining grades, loss of interest in schoolwork, or not wanting to go to school;
- Sudden loss of friends or avoidance of social situations;
- Feelings of helplessness or decreased self esteem;
- Self-destructive behaviors such as running away from home, harming themselves, or talking about suicide.
Few States have laws allowing specifically for causes of action for bullying, so lawsuits are usually made under Federal Civil Rights Statutes. New York, where the Dignity for All Students Act was passed in 2010 and went into effect in 2012, it does
In 2010 New York State passed the Dignity for All Children Act which places the onus on schools to monitor for bullying, in addition to taking action after they become aware of it. This is an important component as children are fearful of reporting bullying. This new legislative makes clear that schools must protect children from the psychological impact of bullying, but it does not provide for a cause of action to bring lawsuits for violations of the Act, so the actions must still be brought as tort action in State court or as Federal cases under the Civil Rights Statutes.
These cases are complicated to bring and often have administrative procedures which must be exhausted before an action can be started. If your child is a victim of bullying, you should consult with a Child Injury Attorney or Civil Rights Attorney as most generalist Personal Injury Attorneys do not know how to bring these actions. It takes an experienced and dedicated team of lawyers to work with the school to reduce problems for the child, while at the same time commencing litigation against a school.