School Bullying and its Impact on Litigation
Heightened attention to the problems perpetuated by bullies on school grounds as well as through social media has compelled states to adopt more stringent legislation aimed at bolstering school policies. At the same time, parents and guardians are turning to the courts seeking relief for their children.
What kind of changes are school districts being forced to make in the effort to end school bullying?
States have enacted legislation that requires schools to implement a plethora of policies and procedures designed to end bullying, including cyber-bullying. Schools are finding that they mandated to create dedicated staff positions, implement staff and volunteer training, incident investigation, discipline, report of incidents and the gather statistical information. School board members are also finding themselves subject to reporting incidents of suspected bullying whether it occurs on campus or off.
Will this new wave of state legislation lead to more litigation?
Across the country, school districts, administrators and teachers are seeing an increase in litigation as parents turn to the courts to provide relief for their children and to exact punishment on perpetrators when a child commits suicide to escape tormenters.
Accused of passively observing harassment and bullying, schools are revamping policies and states are beefing up anti-bullying legislation to lessen their vulnerability to litigation. Well implemented school policies requiring training for children and adults, methods for tracking and controlling bullying and harassment in schools or outside of schools, as well as procedures for conveying information on bullying to the public are all likely to help minimize the risks that from lawsuits.
When schools are grappling with tightening budgets, won’t these new policies and procedures create a burden?
Some states are creating funding mechanisms to help schools implement robust anti-bullying programs. Federal funding may also be available. But schools are going to find that they are mandated by law to implement anti-bullying policies regardless of resources. There is no substitute for a well-educated staff.
What is the most important thing a school district can do to reduce its liability?
Training is probably the most important thing a school district can establish. Ongoing training programs should teach staff and volunteers how to recognize bullying and establish prevention programs, advise them of their responsibilities in reporting incidents and seeing that all parties are appropriately engaged – from the victim to the perpetrator and the parents and guardians, and keep detailed records for reporting purposes. There needs to be a buy-in from the top including all Board members and the Superintendent.
Training should be incorporated into the overall training of new employees and volunteers. After that, it’s a good idea to retrain every year, when revisions to the policy are made, or even more often if necessary. Some state policies dictate training frequency.