Are schools only obligated to address bullying that involves discriminatory harassment?

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 there may be legal options available under state laws.  

Generally, you can’t sue a school district under federal law based on a duty to protect children from bullying.  Many federal courts have found that schools do not have a special duty to protect children from bullying, even though our children are in a school’s custody for so many hours in a day.

Typically, your best legal option for this kind of general bullying is to file a lawsuit under state law.  The law varies a great deal from state-to-state, but here are some some general guidelines:

There are many state laws that cover both public and private schools.

You don’t always have to show that the school actually knew about the bullying.  Sometimes it’s enough to show that school employees should have known about the bullying.  

Most states recognize that schools have a duty to supervise and protect students’ safety.  If schools violate this duty—either because they were negligent or grossly negligent in the way they handled bullying—and a student suffered harm because of this, then it may be possible to hold a school district or its employees accountable for that harm.

There are lots of ways that public school districts and employees can defend themselves against lawsuits filed under state law, so these lawsuits are not easy to win.

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