Bullying lawsuits are increasingly in the headlines. For example:
- In October 2013, the parents of a 9-year-old sued the Santa Barbara Unified School District over its alleged failure to prevent bullying.
- In September 2013, a woman and her teenage son settled a lawsuit filed against Nebraska’s Malcolm School District alleging the District failed to protect the boy from bullying.
- In June 2012, an Iowa mother filed suit on behalf of her teenage daughter, accusing her school district of doing nothing to protect her from bullying.
- In May 2012, a judge dismissed a lawsuit against a Georgia school district which alleged the district failed to stop bullying.
Such bullying lawsuits are undoubtedly on the rise. David Finkelhor, director of the University of New Hampshire’s Crimes Against Children Research Center, believes the lawsuits are increasing due to increased awareness, highly publicized tragedies resulting from bullying, new standards, and more experts in the legal community. “People are more likely to know about bullying and feel that they have to report it,” he says.
While bullying lawsuits continue to grab the headlines, what remains unknown to many parents is that Georgia has one of the strongest anti-bullying laws in the country. Georgia enacted the law in 1999 and substantially revised it in 2010. Since its enactment, the Georgia Department of Education has developed a model anti-bullying policy to be followed by Georgia schools. Under the 2010 revision to the anti-bullying law, every Georgia school district must incorporate this model policy into its own code of conduct.
Because bullying can occur in many forms, Georgia law defines the term broadly. Under Georgia law, if a student tries to, or threatens to, injure another student, and he or she has the apparent ability to do so, that’s bullying. If one student purposely shows force in a way that gives another student reason to fear for or expect immediate bodily harm, that’s also bullying. If a student intentionally uses words – written or spoken – or a physical act that a reasonable person would perceive as being intended to threaten, harass, or intimidate, those words or acts can be considered bullying. Further, bullying is not limited to the classrooms, halls or school yard – bullying is prohibited anywhere on school grounds, on school busses, at school bus stops, at school related functions, and on school computers. Recently, Georgia expanded its anti-bullying law to broaden the scope of how bullying is defined and to specifically address bullying through electronic communications and social media.
As noted above, the Georgia Department of Education adopted a model anti-bullying policy to be implemented by local school districts. The model policy includes some of the strongest disciplinary measures in the country, including expulsion or permanent transfer. For both the bully and the victim, consequences are serious. Parents, educators, and concerned citizens in every community need to understand the basics of bullying, discipline for bullying, help for victims and legal rights. If you have children, read your school’s code of conduct. Talk to your children about bullying and how to avoid engaging in bullying behavior. Talk to them as well about what to do if they are being bullied.
To understand more about bullying, go to www.stopbullying.gov.