ABOUT PUBLIC JUSTICE

This Bullying and the Law guide was developed for the Bully Project by Adele Kimmel, Esquire. Adele is the head of Public Justice’s Anti-Bullying Campaign, which represents bullying victims and their families in lawsuits designed to hold school districts and officials accountable when they fail to protect children from bullying. The Campaign’s goal is to help make systemic change to the culture of school districts, so they do a better job of preventing bullying and responding appropriately when bullying occurs. Public Justice is a national public interest law firm supported by a not-for-profit organization, the Public Justice Foundation. To learn more and contact Adele and the Public Justice team visit: Public Justice, www.publicjustice.net.

INTRODUCTION TO BULLYING
AND THE LAW GUIDE

Schools are responsible for maintaining a safe learning environment for all students. This responsibility includes taking steps to prevent bullying and to stop it when it occurs. The unfortunate reality is that our schools aren’t doing enough to protect students from bullying. Despite anti-bullying laws and policies across the country, adult leaders at schools often turn a blind eye. Eight of out every 10 times a child gets bullied at school, no adult intervenes. This is partly because half of our country’s school administrators and educators haven’t received training on how to prevent or respond to bullying. This guide will help you understand what the law requires school districts and employees to do to address bullying. It’s designed to give you information on what you can reasonably expect from schools when your child is being bullied, and what your options are when schools don’t do enough to protect your child. Note: This guide is for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. Because the law changes and can vary from state to state, this information is not guaranteed to be up to date or applicable to your exact situation.


There are some great resources available—including The BULLY Project’s Parent Action Toolkit—to help you communicate with your children and their schools about bullying.  I encourage you to use those resources and to try to resolve the issues with the school first, before contacting an...

Every state has anti-bullying laws that require schools to take action to address and prevent bullying. There are also other state laws that may apply when a school fails to protect a child from bullying.  There is no federal law against school bullying,...

There is no uniform definition of bullying under the law.  This is partly because there is no federal law that prohibits school bullying. In addition, state anti-bullying laws all define “bullying” somewhat differently.  

To take legal action for school bullying,...

Look at the anti-bullying policies in your child’s school and school district.  These policies are usually on the schools’ and school districts’ websites, and in student and parent handbooks.

Look at your state’s anti-bullying laws.  For a...

Make sure to document the incidents of bullying, any complaints about the incidents made to the school, and the school’s responses.  The BULLY Project’s Parent Action Toolkit provides detailed guidance on what to do.  Here are some key steps for protecting...

There are a variety of legal options available when schools fail to meet their obligations to protect students from bullying, and the best choice depends on the nature of the bullying and your goals.  Possible options include:

Filing a...

The short answer is “maybe.”  

State anti-bullying laws do not allow you to file a suit against a school district for violating those laws.  The good news is that a school’s obligations to address bullying are not limited to state...

Yes.  There are federal civil rights laws that prohibit discrimination based on:

Race

Color

National origin (meaning ancestry or ethnic background)

Sex

Disability...

No.  Schools also have legal obligations to address bullying that doesn’t fit neatly into any of the categories protected under civil rights laws.  For example, when students are being bullied because they are perceived as different in some way—such as nerdy or weird—then...

Generally, when schools become aware of bullying, they must take prompt action to investigate it, followed by steps to try to stop it.  These duties are a school’s responsibility even if a student hasn’t complained.

But if schools don’t know about...

No.  Schools must also address bullying that happens on the school bus, during extracurricular activities before or after school, and on field trips.  

Sometimes, schools also have to address bullying that occurs through electronic technology—known as cyberbullying.  This is true...

This will vary depending on the nature and extent of the bullying.  At a minimum, a school should:

make sure that the bullied students and their families know how to report any subsequent problems

conduct...

No.  Schools have a lot of discretion to decide whether and how to discipline a student for bullying.

Maybe, but not necessarily.  This is typically determined based on the facts in each bullying case.  Some courts have found that disciplining every known aggressor was enough.  Others have found that the school should have done more when it knew that just disciplining...

It may be helpful to contact an attorney when:  

You have repeatedly notified the school that your child is being bullied

The school hasn’t taken sufficient action to stop the bullying 

See More!

Please be aware that participating in a lawsuit is a stressful and intrusive process.  When a child has been traumatized by bullying, he or she may not be able to handle the stress of a lawsuit.  Talk with your children and listen to...



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