by Stacy M. Sadove, Esq., and Erica M. Fitzgerald, Esq., Littman Krooks LLP
On Wednesday, September 28, 2017, an 18–year-old student at the Urban Assembly School for Wildlife Conservation in the Bronx allegedly stabbed two fellow students. This resulted in one student’s death and left the second student in critical condition. Early reports indicate that the alleged attacker had been the subject of repeated bullying by the stabbing victims.
Recent years have seen a shift in public attention towards taking the issue of children being bullied more seriously. School districts now focus on preventing bullying, which was once dismissed as simply part of growing up. However, as incidents such as this show, serious bullying and resulting violence still occur. Bullying can have a serious negative effect on mental health and social development, even into adulthood. If you think your child is being bullied or is bullying someone else, you should know that there are actions that you and the school should consider to eliminate the negative behaviors.
First, review your school district’s code of conduct and make sure you and your child understand it. The code of conduct must promote an environment free of harassment. In general, depending on state law, schools must address bullying or cyberbullying that has a nexus to school. Parents should remain in close contact with school officials to address any actual or potential bullying. Parents can also speak to their children about how to respond appropriately to different types of bullying behavior. Through conversations with parents and teachers, children can learn when and how to address bullying. Parents can also speak to their children about who to go to at school if they are the victims of or have observed bullying on school grounds.
Certain federal and state laws address bullying. Specifically, if your child has a disability, under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”), the bullying of a student with a disability can be tantamount to the denial of a Free Appropriate Public Education (“FAPE”) if it results in the student not receiving meaningful educational benefit.
Many states also have laws against bullying and harassment. You should become familiar with your state mandates. Under New York’s Dignity for All Students Act (“DASA”), schools must protect students by taking prompt action to end harassment, bullying or discrimination that is reported to the administration. Parents should communicate with the school’s Dignity Act Coordinator for students and report any harassment. If you suspect your child may be bullying another student, be sure that educators respond with care and concern. You may need the help of outside professionals to work with the School District to address the issues.
Preventing bullying requires a multifaceted approach. As parents, educators, and advocates, we must all recognize bullying as a serious problem. All parents and teachers should take active steps to raise awareness, teach children strategies to respond to harassment, and take action to prevent bullying.