legal implications of school bullying

Bullying in schools is a countrywide problem. Victims can grapple with low self-esteem, poor academic performance, and even develop mental health issues. There are also legal implications of school bullying.

New Jersey has instituted laws to address the growing problem of school bullying and protect students from further harassment. The state’s important Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights took effect in 2011. 

If your child is the victim of school bullying, a personal injury lawyer may be able to help. In addition to criminal punishment, victims might be able to sue the school for financial compensation.

At O’Connor, Parsons, Lane & Noble, we help victims and their families hold schools, educators, and other responsible parties accountable for failure to follow anti-bullying and discrimination laws. Read on to learn more about the legal implications of school bullying and how our lawyers can assist. 

The New Jersey Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act

The Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act requires schools to work hard to prevent bullying. It also requires the schools to respond, report, and investigate instances of school bullying.

The Act is considered one of the toughest laws against school bullying in the United States. It came into existence in response to a growing concern about the impact of bullying in schools and the need for comprehensive legislation to address the issue. The Act provides directives for schools on handling bullying incidents and aims to create a school environment where learning is free from harassment.

Defining Bullying 

According to the government Stop Bullying website, bullying is any unwanted and aggressive actions or behavior among school-aged children. The critical component is there’s a perceived or real power imbalance. That means one child has greater physical strength or uses embarrassing, private information to control or harm another child. Bullying behavior either takes place multiple times or has the potential to be repetitive. Examples include attacking someone, spreading rumors, or making threats.

In New Jersey, bullying encompasses various forms and instances of intimidation or harassment. State law says that bullying can be any gesture or written, physical, verbal, or electronic communication that disrupts the orderly operation of the school or the rights of other students. This definition includes incidents occurring off-campus if they substantially affect school operations or infringe on student rights.

The New Jersey law also specifies that bullying can be any action motivated by an actual or perceived characteristic, such as:

  • Color;
  • Race;
  • Ancestry; 
  • Religion;
  • Gender; 
  • Gender identity and expression;
  • National origin;
  • Mental, physical, or sensory disability;
  • Sexual orientation; or 
  • Any other distinguishing characteristic.

Furthermore, to be classified as bullying under New Jersey law, the action or behavior must fall under one of the following criteria: 

  • The behavior is something that a reasonable person under similar circumstances would recognize as problematic. For example, someone should know the behavior would result in physical or emotional harm to a student or the student’s property. 
  • The behavior or action insults or puts down a student or group of students. 
  • The educational environment becomes hostile for the victim and interferes with the child’s education. 

Although school bullying is commonly associated with student-to-student interactions, it is important to acknowledge that bullying can originate from various sources. In addition to students, teachers, staff, and school officials can also engage in bullying behavior. This explicit, detailed definition leaves little ambiguity about what constitutes bullying, ensuring that schools can address all forms of this harmful behavior. Violators of the Act could face fines and jail or prison time. 

Types of Bullying 

To better understand and help identify bullying in schools, let’s look at some examples of the three main types of bullying. 

Physical bullying is when a student experiences physical harm or destruction of their possessions. Examples include: 

  • Spitting,
  • Hitting,
  • Pinching,
  • Kicking, 
  • Pushing or tripping, or 
  • Taking a student’s things. 

Verbal bullying involves hateful written or spoken things, such as: 

  • Name-calling,
  • Taunting,
  • Teasing, 
  • Threats, and
  • Unwanted sexual comments. 

Social bullying is when someone aims to harm a child’s relationships or reputation. Examples include: 

  • Spreading false rumors,
  • Leaving someone out of group events on purpose,
  • Public embarrassment, and
  • Pushing other kids not to be friends with someone. 

Bullying can take place during school hours or off campus. In some instances, the bullying crosses over to cyberbullying. 

What Is Cyberbullying?

The difference with cyberbullying is that it takes place over digital devices, such as computers, tablets, and cell phones. It can include anything from a text to a post online in a forum. Some cyberbullying is direct, through texts, emails, or direct messaging apps. Other times, it occurs on social media sites, forums, and chat rooms. 

In New Jersey, criminal laws don’t necessarily reference cyberbullying specifically, but the perpetrator could face charges under the state’s cyber-harassment law.

In some cases, cyberbullying can rise to the level of stalking. Punishment under the cyber-harassment law includes hefty fines and prison time. Parents of children under 16 could be required to participate in a program with their child that explains the danger of cyber harassment. 

New Jersey’s Bullying Prevention Programs and Strategies

New Jersey promotes proactive and preventive measures to curb bullying in schools. It encourages school districts to establish, implement, and assess bullying prevention programs or initiatives annually. These can involve school staff, students, administrators, volunteers, parents, law enforcement, and community members, thus fostering a collective responsibility toward creating a safe learning environment.

Training and Resources for Staff

Recognizing that teachers and school staff play a critical role in preventing and addressing bullying.

New Jersey mandates staff training on anti-bullying policies and appropriate procedures for policy implementation. This training is vital in equipping teachers with the knowledge and tools to identify and handle instances of bullying effectively and in accordance with state law.

Support for Victims and Perpetrators

New Jersey anti-bullying laws stress the importance of providing adequate support to both victims and perpetrators of bullying. School district policies must include various services, such as counseling, support, intervention, and other programs. 

Involvement of Parents and Community

To foster a community-wide approach to bullying, New Jersey encourages school districts to develop policies in consultation with parents and other community members, school employees, school volunteers, students, and school administrators.

This inclusive approach ensures the policy is comprehensive and considers all relevant perspectives. It also fosters a sense of shared responsibility and encourages everyone to play a part in preventing bullying.

Contact Our Attorneys Today

Cases involving bullying are complicated. The perpetrator’s actions could involve other legal violations, including civil rights. Children are less powerful to defend themselves against bullying and need a legal advocate. Schools try to balance the rights of each child, but that can look like favoritism in some instances, leaving the victim feeling even more alone. 

Hiring an attorney is essential. Our legal team can investigate whether the school abides by its legal responsibilities. Should the school, educator, or other involved parties fail to follow the law, we can help hold them accountable in a civil lawsuit.

At O’Connor, Parsons, Lane & Noble, we have years of experience assisting families affected by bullying or cyberbullying. Contact our office to learn more about how we can help if your child is a victim of school bullying.

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