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Back to School: Bullies Beware

BACK TO SCHOOL: BULLIES BEWARE!

As parents get their children ready for another school year, school clothes and supplies are not the only items that should be on the preparation list. Teaching your children how to deal with bullying and cyberbullying should be on every parent’s “get ready for school” agenda. In a 2013 survey by the Centers for Disease Control, 33% of middle school students and 20% of high school students reported being bullied on school property; 15% of high school students reported being cyberbullied. All students will either be bullied, be a bully, or observe bullying throughout their course of education. This is especially so due to the rise of cyberbullying, which allows a large number of participants to target a victim.

Examples of traditional bullying include such behaviors as frequent teasing, damaging of property, threats, exclusion, intimidation, harassment, and assault. Cyberbullying is bullying that occurs over digital devices such as cell phones, computers and tablets. The most common places for cyberbullying to occur are Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, and text messaging. As mentioned above, one of the concerns unique to cyberbullying is the ability of a large number of bullies to participate at once. Other concerns unique to this form of bullying are: (1) the bully can remain anonymous; (2) cyberbullying is persistent since digital devices communicate with people 24/7; (3) the damage done by cyberbullying is often permanent, and can affect college admissions, jobs, etc.

GEORGIA LAW ON BULLYING

Georgia has specific laws and policies against bullying. The laws are found in Title 16, Crimes and Offenses, and in Title 20, Education. Each local board of education in Georgia must adopt a policy that prohibits student-on-student bullying, and must include the prohibition on bullying in its student code of conduct for all schools in the district. Ga. Code Ann. § § 20-2-751.4, 20-2-751.5. For purposes of the Georgia educational policy, “bullying” means an act that occurs on school property, on a school vehicle, at a school bus stop, at a school function, or through the use of school software or electronic technology that: (1) is an intentional written, verbal, or physical act that a reasonable person would perceive as being intended to threaten, harass, or intimidate; (2) substantially interferes with another student’s education or substantially disrupts the orderly operation of the school; and (3) is so severe, persistent, or pervasive that it creates an intimidating or threatening educational environment. Ga. Code Ann. Section 20-2-751.4.

Georgia’s anti-bullying rules apply to cyberbullying. The anti-bullying rules will apply even if a student did not send or post an electronic communication from school property or the school’s computer system if the cyberbullying is: (1) specifically directed at another student or school personnel; (2) meant to threaten the victim’s safety or seriously disrupt school order; and (3) very likely to cause physical harm or property damage or at least makes the victim reasonably afraid of that outcome. (Ga. Code Ann. Section 20-2-7514(a).)

HOW TO PREVENT BULLYING

Help your children understand what bullying and cyberbullying is, how to identify it and how to stand up to it safely when it is done to them or someone else. Teach your children and their friends how and where to report bullying, and keep the lines of communication open with kids about the issue of bullying and cyberbullying. Above all, model the kind of behavior you are telling your children to demonstrate: actions based on respect, kindness and empathy toward others.

Schools and teachers should give presentations on bullying that include role-playing and group discussions on how to safely report it. Assigning research projects on what constitutes bullying and cyberbullying, and promoting creative writing and art projects expressing students’ feelings and experiences about bullying are excellent ways of both dealing with current situations and preventing future bullying.

LEGAL REMEDIES

If your child has suffered physical and/or emotional harm from bullying, you may be able to pursue legal action. Bullying based on characteristics of a protected class—e.g. race, religion, sex, disability, national origin—can support civil rights claims under: Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972; Section 504 of Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and Title II of the Americans with Disability Act of 1990.

If no protected class is involved, then state law and common law claims can be brought. These types of claims are negligent or intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent supervision of students, property damage, defamation, etc. Damages can be recovered for physical injuries, emotional trauma and pain and suffering; possibly even punitive damages may be recovered.

CONTACT YOUR ATTORNEY

If your child has experienced bullying, contact Dave Thomas at The Thomas Law Firm for a free evaluation of your legal rights.

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Thomas Law Firm
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