School Bullying

Every year, many students claim that they have been subjected to bullying. While many of these instances can be classified as harmless teasing, there are certain incidents that cross the line from harmless to hurtful, and can be emotionally and psychologically damaging to a student trying to learn in school.

The school is responsible for maintaining a healthy and safe learning environment for students. That means monitoring any potential signs of bullying and responding appropriately when an accusation has been made. It can be difficult if you believe that your child has been bullied, or if your child has been unfairly accused of bullying. Therefore, an education lawyer can help you and your child related to accusations of school bullying

What is Bullying?

In New Jersey, bullying is described as an action, gesture, or a communication that is motivated by a particular characteristic, such as race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, disability or weight.

To qualify as an act of bullying, the conduct must be something that a reasonable person would consider as physically or emotionally harmful to a student or their property. Bullying creates a hostile environment for the student by interfering with their education or severely or causing physical or emotional harm.  Bullying does not solely refer to student on student harassment, but it can also refer to teacher/administrator on student.

Cyberbullying is harassment that occurs through technology, such as the internet or via cell phones, and can take the form of website posts, emails, chat comments, or text messages. This form of bullying can be especially damaging for students who are targeted, as it can occur both inside and outside of the school setting.

What are Common Types of Bullying?

While cyberbullying has become more pervasive, it is by no means the only type of bullying. Other types of bullying include:

  • Physical bullying: When people traditionally think about bullying, this is what they envision. It includes punching, kicking, hitting, trapping, and damaging another person or their property. Such action can do short-term and long-term damage.
  • Verbal bullying: This harassment often consists of name calling from one person to another, which can also include slurs or other inappropriate remarks. While this conduct can begin as “harmless” banter, it can quickly escalate into more damaging language. .
  • Social bullying: This form of harassment (also known as relational bullying), can take place without the target’s knowledge. Here, the student is purposefully excluded from friends and events, and can endure harmful jokes designed to embarrass, and the spread of false rumors.

Those who are bullied tend to be less effective at school, and may choose to skip class in order to avoid certain students or situations. As a result, their grades could suffer. Additionally, students who are accused of bullying may also experience a decline in academic performance and/or social isolation.

What Laws Pertain to Bullying?

In New Jersey, harassment, intimidation, or bullying in schools is unlawful.  Specifically, the state has enacted several laws that directly and indirectly address bullying. For example:

  • New Jersey’s Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights: This mandates that schools prevent, report, investigate, and respond to any valid reports of bullying. Additionally, the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights requires that teachers , and other district employees, obtain training in order to recognize and address instances of bullying.
  • The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD): Under the NJLAD, a school district can be held liable for failing to abide by the HIB procedures contained in the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights, or if it knew or should have known of the bullying and failed to take the necessary steps to address the harmful conduct.

There are multiple remedies available to your child if they believe that they are being bullied. If your student believes they are being bullied, they should immediately report the conduct to a teacher or administrator.

What are the School’s Responsibilities?

There is no way for school’s to prevent 100% of all bullying incidents, especially when they are dealing with children who are learning to cope with developing emotions and may not fully understand the ramifications of their actions. However, schools possess the authority to act when a legitimate claim of bullying occurs.

As mentioned above, if you discover that your student is being bullied, you should inform the school as soon as possible.  You should also provide the school with as much information as possible, including the names of the students involved, specifics about what took place.  It may also be beneficial to speak with your student’s teacher about the situation. Advise them on what your child has told you, and verify if the teacher has seen anything similar.

Once you or your student informs the school of the bullying, the school is under an obligation to investigate the allegations.  Specifically, there are several steps that the school should take. These steps include:

  • The school should investigate the claim. The school should investigate the incident, speaking to those involved and individuals who may have witnessed the bullying. At the conclusion of the investigation, the school should inform the parents about its findings, and what action will be taken in response(if any).
  • Speak to the student. During the investigation, the school should have a private discussion with the student who claims to have been bullied and gather the facts as they see fit. They should also speak with the person(s) who is accused of bullying.
  • Parents should be patient. The school wants to make sure that it gathers all the information regarding a bullying claim so that it can respond appropriately. Therefore, parents should be patient while the process plays itself out.
  • If the bullying continues, keep good records. If the bullying continues after the school conducts an investigation, the parents should submit a written letter to the school principal so that there is a record of the ongoing harmful conduct. If the principal fails to respond, then you should write to the school superintendent.

The school’s investigation must be completed within ten days of receiving the HIB complaint, and it must report the findings to the superintendent within two days of completing the investigation.

After receiving the report, the superintendent will decide what action (if any) is appropriate, including:

  • Establishing intervention services, such as counseling or peer support groups.
  • Disciplinary action.
  • Taking or recommending other appropriate action.

The board of education should receive the results of the investigation (and what corresponding action will be taken) no later than the next board meeting after the investigation was completed. Additionally, parents of the students involved in the HIB are entitled to obtain information about the investigation, such as whether the district found evidence of harassment, intimidation, or bullying, or whether discipline was imposed or services provided to address the misconduct. This information is available to the parents within five days of the board of education receiving the investigation report.

Do I Have Any Options After the Investigation?

After the school’s investigation is complete, parents or guardians can request a hearing before the board of education. This hearing must occur within 10 days of the written request and will take place during executive session, as to protect the confidentiality of the parties involved in the investigation. At this time, the board may hear from the school anti-bullying specialist about the incident and the related investigation, recommendations for discipline or services, and any programs created to reduce future HIB incidents. Parents will also  have the opportunity to express their dissatisfaction with the investigation, its results, and/or any disciplinary decisions.. Ultimately, the board of education will issue a written decision regarding whether to reject, modify, or affirm the superintendent’s determination. If you disagree with this decision, you can file an appeal with the Commissioner of Education.

The education lawyers at John Rue & Associates, LLC help parents advocate for their students who are targeted by bullies, and those who have been unfairly accused of harassment, intimidation, or bullying.

If your child says that they have been bullied at school, or if your student has been accused of bullying, the school has an obligation to investigate the matter. If you believe the school is not meeting its requirements, you might need legal help. Our New Jersey education lawyers at John Rue & Associates, LLC are here to help. Call us at 862-283-3155 or fill out our online form today for more information. We provide parents who may need an education lawyer with a free initial consultation (30 minutes by phone), and a more detailed consultation (90 minutes to three hours by Zoom) for a flat fee of $595. We are located in Montclair, New Jersey, and serve clients throughout the state.

John Rue & Associates, LLC
Montclair Office
40 South Fullerton Ave, Suite 29,
Montclair, NJ 07042
Princeton Office
100 Overlook Center, 2nd Floor
Princeton, NJ 08540

[email protected]

862-283-3155 (Phone)
973-860-0869 (Fax)

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