Anti-bullying campaigns have become increasingly visible over the last several years, and cases of school bullying turned fatal have dominated the news.
The perception of school bullies has shifted, as well. No more are parents and schools simply telling harassed and tormented children to “just ignore” the cruel behavior. Schools are taking a more active role in reducing bullying behavior, and the consequences are much more serious than just losing recess.
For many parents of bullied children, holding the responsible parties accountable is essential. But determining whether a crime has been committed can sometimes be difficult, especially with online “cyber-bullying.”
Understanding the role of the school and that of other parents is important if you’re considering taking legal action in a case of school bullying.
Students Have the Right to a Safe School
In California, all public school students are afforded equal rights and opportunities. However, many students report bullying, especially those who fall into the LGBTQ+ category.
Under California Education Code Sections 234, 234.1, 234.2, 234.3, and 234.5, also known as “Seth’s Law,” schools must address bullying when it is reported to an administrator, teacher, or another staff member.
The law is named after a 13-year-old California student who took his own life after years of bullying that the schools failed to address.
The revisions to the Education Code strengthened the state’s anti-bullying laws and required all California public schools to update anti-bullying policies. It’s designed to help protect students based on their membership in a protected class, such as race, ethnicity, gender, nationality, religion, and disability.
State Anti-Bullying Laws for California Public Schools
Schools must adopt a strong anti-bullying policy that delineates prohibited behavior, including bullying or harassment based on sexual orientation or gender expression, in addition to the legally protected classes.
Schools should have a specific process to receive complaints of bullying and harassment, readily available for all students. The anti-bullying policy and complaint process are to be publicized and posted in all schools and school offices.
School personnel are also required to intervene if they witness harassment or bullying. In fact, the law states that “If school personnel witness an act of discrimination, harassment, intimidation, or bullying, he or she shall take immediate steps to intervene when safe to do so.”
The anti-bullying policy applies to all school activities, including extracurricular activities and school attendance. Prohibited behaviors include discrimination, intimidation, harassment, and physical bullying directed towards a member of the school community.
In addition, “discrimination, harassment, intimidation or bullying directed at someone associated with a person or group with one or more of the listed actual or perceived characteristics is also prohibited.”
What Anti-Bullying Complaint Procedures Are Schools Required to Have?
All complaints of bullying are to remain confidential as much as possible, and schools are obligated to protect students from retaliation after a complaint.
The process for receiving and investigating bullying complaints should include a timeline for gathering facts and resolving complaint, and include an appeals process to dispute findings if the person or people accused feel that the complaint was false or unjustified.
These processes are required to be publicized on the school’s website and distributed to all students, parents, and made available to the general public.
The policy also must be posted in all schools and administrative offices, including staff lounges and any meeting rooms used for student government. Translations of the policies and complaint resolution process, as appropriate, are also required.
All California public school districts are also required to annually update and post all support resources for kids who have been victims of bullying or discrimination, such as anonymous helplines and support groups. This information should be posted on the school district website and a list should be provided to each school in the district.
What Should I Do If the School Fails to Address My Child’s Bullying?
Your child should be able to attend school and school-related activities without worrying about being tormented, harassed, or bullied. California public schools have an obligation to protect students from harm. If they fail to comply with the Education Code concerning school bullying, they may be in violation of the law.
Children who are subjected to bullying may suffer from emotional trauma and mental anguish, as well as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from ongoing torment.
Some children may also be physically assaulted, which is a crime. The school district and the bully themselves may both be held liable for the trauma inflicted on your child. A personal injury lawyer can help ensure that your child’s rights are protected.
Need a Lawyer?
At Esfandi Law Group, we take protecting children from bullying seriously, and we hold individuals, including teachers, school administrators, and students, accountable for bullying in schools.
You may be entitled to a settlement if the school district failed to uphold anti-bullying laws and failed to protect your child. Call us today to discuss your case.
If you, or a loved one, need to learn more about appropriate available defenses, including Unconsciousness/Automatism, please call for a free consultation.
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Seppi Esfandi is an Expert Criminal Defense Attorney who has over 20 years of practice defending a variety of criminal cases.