Bullying is generally defined as any intentional, aggressive behavior that is meant to threaten, frighten, or hurt another student. Bullying doesn’t simply mean “being mean” or picking on someone, but can include specific acts such as:
- Waiting for a classmate in a certain area in order to intimidate them
- Using aggression to take money or belongings from another student
- Forcing another student to do homework or provide test answers
- Physically attacking another student
Many disregard bullying as a “natural” phase that young people go through. However, bullying in schools has raised much concern due to recent cases where students have committed suicide after being bullied. As a result, many state and local laws have begun enforcing anti-bullying statutes, which are similar to workplace bullying laws.
Who Can be Held Liable for Bullying in Schools?
School officials have a responsibility to maintain a safe atmosphere for students. If bullying occurs on school grounds, many different parties can potentially be held liable, including:
- The child
- The child’s parents, especially if the parents approved of the conduct or encouraged it
- The school or school staff/officials, especially where they knew about the bullying situation but did nothing to prevent it
In most cases, a victim of bullying needs to show that they suffered definite harm as a result of the bullying. For example, if they suffered physical injuries, or had valuable items of property stolen from them, they’ll usually have a workable claim in court. On the other hand, it’s more difficult to obtain a damages award for purely emotional “injuries”, as these are more difficult to prove.
Are There any Legal Consequences for Bullying in Schools?
Since 2007, over half of the 50 states have implemented some form of anti-bullying statute. Many other states are currently reviewing bullying laws through legislation. Anti-bullying laws may impose legal consequences for bullying, such as:
- Criminal consequences: These can include fines, and possible time in a juvenile facility for serious cases. Bullying often involves violations of criminal laws, such as theft or assault
- Civil consequences: The “bully” may face a civil lawsuit as well, especially where the victim was seriously injured or had property taken from them. Some instances of bullying also involve parental liability as well
In most bullying cases, the parties involved are minors. In such cases, legal consequences may involve alternative options such as mandatory community service, counseling, or summer behavioral programs.
What is Cyber-Bullying?
Cyber-bullying involves the use of electronic or computer technology to harass, intimidate, or humiliate another student. For example, the “bully” may post hurtful information on a website, or may distribute mass texts about the victim to large groups of students.
In order to be legally actionable, cyber-bullying usually needs to be so severe or persistent that it disrupts the victim’s ability to study or causes them to feel unsafe. These types of bullying cases are becoming more common as technology is introduced to younger portions of the population.
Do I Need a Lawyer if I Have Legal Issues Involving Bullying in School?
Bullying laws highlight the dangers and consequences involved in such conduct. If you have any disputes or legal concerns involving bullying in schools, you may wish to contact a lawyer in your area. An experienced government attorney can help determine if you have a legal claim that you can file in court. Most bullying claims require proof that the victim suffered substantial harm, injury, or economic loss.