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Category Archives: Education Law

Bullying Prevention According to the Law: What will be the role of adults who work with school children?

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Posted by Maria Mangicaro
Bullying Prevention Advocate
mangicaro829@aol.com

The controversial Pinellas School Bus Beating and the more recent Gibbs High School violent classroom fight among students highlights the issue of what role educators, school employees/volunteers and even bus drivers must take when they are witness to peer victimization and bullying. 

As Florida lawmakers consider Rebecca’s Law, which would criminalize bullying, individuals who work in schools must recognize the liability that might be placed on them. 

In 2012, a NJ school district settled a bullying lawsuit for $4.2 million. The suit against the school district alleged officials knew or should have known of his bully’s violent tendencies. The plaintiff also accused them of failing to comply with state anti-bullying laws. The plaintiff settled out of court for an undisclosed amount with the bully’s family.

While each state sets different statutes of limitations for different types of claims, many states impose a three-year statute of limitations for injury claims in general — but for children, the statute of limitations is extended until the child’s 18th birthday. So children really have until age 21 to pursue an injury claim.   Liability for bullying may have special considerations as a child who is bullied may have long-lasting repercussions that can follow into adulthood.

It will be extremely important to create a massive amount of public awareness of Rebecca’s Law and the intent of the law to prevent children from behaving like bullies, or face criminal charges and expensive lawsuits. 

Surprisingly, most Florida residents are not even aware of the fact Florida currently has an anti-bullying law and our schools have already taken initiative to put in place proactive bullying prevention programs. Under the law, they loose valuable funding if they are not in compliance. 

Under the new anti-bullying law, parents, guardians, teachers, educators, administrators, school volunteers and even school bus drivers must have a clear-cut definition and understanding of what their responsibilities will be to prevent children from behaving like bullies. 

According to Lawyers dot com, when bullying behavior is considered a crime, “teachers can be held criminally liable for turning a blind eye to bullying.”

Bullying litigation is an emerging area of law as “Parents of victims can hold bullies – as well as schools, teachers and staff – civilly liable for bullying as well. Civil law involves tort claims. Tort law holds individuals or institutions legally responsible for harmful wrongdoing. The wrongdoing can result in monetary damages paid to the victim, even if the bully or the school isn’t criminally charged. Parents can also bring lawsuits against schools if they violate their state’s anti-bullying statutes.”

The public must be educated on what causes bullying behavior among children and what their legal responsibilities will be to prevent it.

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N.J. Bullying Case Law: L.W. v. Toms River Regional Schools Board of Education

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Posted by Maria Mangicaro
Bullying Prevention Advocate
mangicaro829@aol.com

From the Education Law Center:

“Founded in 1973, the Education Law Center (ELC) serves as the leading voice for New Jersey’s public school children and has become one of the most effective advocates for equal educational opportunity and education justice in the United States.”

Bullying

According to national survey results, bullying affects approximately 30% of students in the United States, whether they are bullies, targets, or both. Bullying may be physical (hitting or punching), verbal (name-calling or teasing), emotional (intimidation through gestures or social exclusion), or, increasingly, cyberbullying (sending insults or threats through electronic communication). Research shows that by creating a climate of fear and disrespect in schools and adversely impacting student learning, bullying negatively impacts not only those directly involved, but also the bystanders to this behavior. Those who are bullied are more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety, and thoughts of suicide, while those who bully are at risk of other antisocial or violent behavior.

New Jersey school districts have been officially required to take measures to prevent and respond to bullying since 2002, when the State’s first anti-bullying statute, N.J.S.A. 18A:37-13, was enacted.  In 2007, in L.W. v. Toms River Regional Schools Board of Education, which ELC joined as an amicus, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that a school district can be sued for damages, under the Law Against Discrimination (LAD), for not responding reasonably to bias-based student-on-student bullying and harassment that creates a hostile educational environment. Relief under the LAD is limited to students who are targeted for bullying based on a characteristic protected by the law, such as race, gender, sexual orientation, or disability.

Following the L.W. decision, the State created the New Jersey Commission on Bullying in Schools to study and recommend ways to strengthen New Jersey’s approach to the problem.  Through its active participation in the New Jersey Coalition for Bullying Awareness and Prevention, a coalition of advocacy organizations, government agencies, and service providers whose goal is to eliminate bullying in New Jersey’s schools, ELC was invited to serve on the law committee established to advise the Commission.

The Commission issued a comprehensive report in 2009, establishing a road map for the legal and policy reforms needed to combat bullying in New Jersey’s schools.  That report heavily influenced the drafting of New Jersey’s “Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act,” which was signed into law on January 5, 2011 and is considered to be the strongest anti-bullying legislation in the country.

Current Issues

Under the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act, effective in the 2011-2012 school year, all New Jersey school districts must strengthen their standards and procedures for preventing, reporting, investigating and responding to incidents of harassment, intimidation, and bullying (HIB) of students, both in school and off school premises.  In addition, school districts must comply with enhanced public reporting and training requirements, appoint an Anti-Bullying Specialist and Safety Team at every school, and appoint an Anti-Bullying Coordinator for every district.  The Department of Education also has increased responsibilities under the law, including requirements to investigate HIB complaints that have not been adequately addressed at the local level and to create and administer a Bullying Prevention Fund.
Click here to visit the Education Law Center website.