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Steps to take if Your Child Faces Bullying or Harassment in School
Published September 7, 2023
As the new school year begins, parents must be vigilant to report and advocate against any bullying of their child. Student bullying and harassment can be a health risk to students and can impact their education. Bullying has increased in the past years and can have devastating and tragic consequences. For example, based on recent news reports, a 10-year old student in Peekskill reportedly took his life due to bullying. In a New Jersey case, based on reporting, a jury awarded the family of a student who died by suicide after bullying $9 million in damages.
Most children who are bullied do not take their own lives, but it’s important for parents to know the signs of bullying and what to do. School districts should be getting the message to take all steps possible to stop bullying. With the stress of the pandemic and staffing shortages, many are unable to take even reasonable steps. Even 20 years ago, an address at the American Medical Association Educational Form on Adolescent Health, noted that if bullying were considered a disease affecting America’s youth, it would be considered an epidemic and the CDC would have to investigate. The problem is even worse today, due to social media bullying, the use of AI and the behavioral challenges of youth post-pandemic.
New York Law Prohibits Bullying and Harassment of Students in School
There are no federal mandates for bullying curricula or staff training. However, New York Law requires school districts to address bullying and to report it to New York State. The Dignity for all Students Act (DASA) in New York prohibits bullying and harassment of students by employees or students on school property, as well as discrimination based on protected categories of race, color, weight, national origin, ethnic group, religion, religious practice, disability, sexual orientation, gender, or sex. While DASA does not provide for a private right of action or require an independent, outside investigation, it does require school districts to address and report bullying. Unfortunately, New York law does not provide for school district transfers due to bullying or harassment, although this may be the only way to stop persistent bullying of a student.
Some Steps to Take if Your Child is being Bullied
Here are some steps to take if you believe your child is facing bullying or harassment. While many may seem obvious, the steps merit review, with vigilance and persistence.
Know Signs of Bullying and Harassment. Understand the signs of bullying and harassment and do not ignore them, even if your child asks you not to report. If your child expresses concern about bullying in their school, you can help them learn behaviors to protect themselves and their classmates.
Document Concerns. Document incidents of bullying in writing to the DASA coordinator in your child’s school. Keep documenting additional incidents or concerns. You can find the DASA coordinator on your district and school’s website.
File a Complaint under DASA. Even though DASA is not always the strongest remedy, it does require a district to investigate, report to the state and provide a report. The law also requires protective measures including separating the students.
Bring up at Section 504 or IEP Meeting. If your child has a disability, parents should raise concerns about bullying and harassment at their child’s CSE or Section 504 meeting, as safety is an integral part of a free appropriate public education and federal courts in New York have held that parents have a right to bring up bullying at CSE or Section 504 meetings. For example, your child may need a safety plan and need school counseling, or may need a 1:1 aide for safety. Specifically, a federal appeals court has held that the persistent refusal to discuss a student’s bullying at important junctures in an IEP meeting significantly impeded the Parents’ right to participate in the development of the IEP.
Follow Up to Make Sure School Reports Bullying to the State. After making a DASA complaint, ask the District whether it was reported to New York State and ask for proof. A recent article by a local Westchester newspaper found that local school districts often underreport bullying. According to the article, based on New York State reporting, DASA reporting has declined significantly since 2013. Many schools reported no incidents for several years in a row. In the 2021-22 school year, over 1,800 schools reported no DASA incidents. This does not appear credible.
Follow Up if Measures are Not Working. Even if a school district takes steps, they may not be enough. If a school district’s measures are not helping and not stopping the bullying, the school and district must try new measures.
Ask the School About Proactive Measures. All school districts have anti-bullying policies, but review all and note any deficiencies. Ask your school administrators for proactive programs and measures, such as staff and student training, to keep students safe both online and in school.
Involve Police in Criminal Matters. For threats of violence and any criminal activity such as assaults, you can make a police report. Often the police will defer to the school district, but it’s important to involve the police to keep your child safe.
Addressing school bullying can be challenging but with greater vigilance, all can work together to help students remain safe this year. If your concerns remain ongoing, reach out to an attorney experienced in education law, as there are additional means of legal redress.
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