School Districts Must Take Bullying Seriously. It Truly is a Matter of Life or Death.
About one in three students from 6th to 12th grade report being bullied in the United States. Bullying comes in all forms including verbal, social, physical, and cyberbullying; commonly through name calling, teasing, spreading rumors or lies, pushing or shoving, hitting, slapping, kicking, leaving out, threatening, stealing belongings, and sexual comments or gestures.
Persistent continuing bullying can lead to or worsen feelings of isolation, rejection, exclusion, and despair, as well as depression and anxiety, which can contribute to suicidal behavior. The bullying epidemic is an ongoing and nationwide problem.
On August 1, 2017, the parents of a deceased 12 year old student issued a statement regarding the suicide of their daughter, stating that it was a result of bullying at school and cyberbullying on social media by students from school, along with the failure of the school district to address such problems despite warnings from the parents.
It is important to understand your child's rights and the school districts' legal obligations to address the issues surrounding bullying. Although there are no federal laws that directly address bullying, school districts are must address issues that overlap with discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex, disability, or religion.
California law, however, includes a number of protections. The California Legislature has stated that it is state policy to ensure that local educational agencies ("LEAs" or "districts") continue to work to reduce discrimination, harassment, violence, intimidation, and bullying. The Legislature "recognizes that all pupils enrolled in the state public schools have the inalienable right to attend classes on school campuses that are safe, secure, and peaceful."
Under California law, bullying includes "any severe or pervasive physical or verbal act or conduct, including communications made in writing or by means of an electronic act . . . directed toward one or more pupils that has or can be reasonably predicted to have the effect of one or more of the following:"
(A) Placing reasonable pupil(s) in fear of harm of their persons or property.
(B) Causing substantial detrimental effect on physical or mental health.
(C) Causing substantial interference with his or her academic performance.
Under the California Education Code, LEAs/School Districts have the duty to do the following:
Adopt a policy that prohibits discrimination, harassment, intimidation, and bullying which includes a statement that it applies to all acts related to school activity and attendance; adopt a process for filing and investigating complaints of discrimination, harassment, intimidation, and bullying which shall include, but not be limited to the following:
1. If a school personnel witnesses an act of discrimination, harassment, intimidation, or bullying, they shall interfere immediately when safe to do so;
2. A timeline to investigate and resolve complaints;
3. An appeal process for the complainant if he/she disagrees with the resolution;
4. All forms developed pursuant to this process shall be translated.
In addition, LEAs must maintain documentation of complaints and their resolution for a minimum of one year, ensure that complainants are protected from retaliation and keep the identity of the complainant confidential as appropriate, and have an identified LEA officer responsible for ensuring school district of compliance.
The investigation of alleged unlawful discrimination, harassment, intimidation, or bullying is initiated by filing a complaint. Note that a complaint shall be filed no later than six months from the date the alleged discrimination, harassment, intimidation, or bullying occurred, or the date the complainant first knew of the facts of the alleged conduct. However, the time for filing may be extended by the superintendent upon written request by the complainant setting forth reasons for extension.
Upon filing, the LEA must investigate and issue a decision based on evidence sent to the complainant within 60 days from receipt of the complaint. The decision shall include the finding of facts, conclusion of law, disposition of the complaint, rationale for such disposition, corrective actions, notice of the complainant's right to appeal the decision to the CDE, and procedures to be followed for initiating an appeal.
Parents who are concerned or interested in your child's rights regarding discrimination, harassment, intimidation, or bullying should look up information on your local LEA website for the school district policies for the details regarding their rights.
California School Districts Must Take Immediate Affirmative Steps to Intervene.
-Elizabeth Curtis, Esq.
-Arden Hoang, Summer Intern