School Bullying Is Illegal

School bullying can result in criminal charges for assault, battery, and harassment, as well as civil damages for the torts of negligent supervision, training, retention, and hiring of school faculty and staff, civil harassment, defamation of character, civil assault, civil battery, conversion of personal property, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Parents can bring civil lawsuits on behalf of their children if they are the target of bullies, and they can contact the police to investigate criminal charges against juvenile bullies. I am an Education Law Attorney practicing in the San Francisco Bay Area, the Monterey Bay Area, San Jose, Palo Alto, Berkeley, and Hayward, California, and I offer aggressive legal representation for schools and individuals in school bullying matters and other education law issues.

In early October 2010, Tyler Clementi, a Rutgers University freshman, killed himself by jumping to his death off the George Washington Bridge that connects New Jersey and New York. His proferred reason: he was allegedly mortified by bullies at Rutgers who antagonized him for being homosexual, even to the point of allegedly videotaping and possibly publicizing a video of Mr. Clementi having sex with another man. According to authorities on the subject, Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, and Transgendered persons, i.e., LGBT individuals, are more likely to commit suicide than members of the heterosexual population, as are youth who are targeted by bullies. Half a dozen other LGBT youths have killed themselves since Mr. Clementi’s suicide last month.

Last year, an 11 year-old boy, Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover hanged himself after being endlessly teased by bullies for allegedly being gay. The school seemed to respond too late or not at all to the boy’s pleas for help, and in fact even reprimanded the boy on various occasions for complaining about his tormentors.

In Philadelphia, Cheryl Joseph, a mother of two young middle school girls is being threatened by officials with 5 days of jail time and $500 fines if she continues to keep her daughters out of school. Mrs. Joseph refuses to send her daughters back to school, where they are constantly bullied by their schoolmates for being biracial. When asked why she won’t send her children back to school until the school district grants her kids the right to transfer to another school, Mrs. Joseph states, “With all these kids who have killed themselves after being bullied, all I can say is that it won’t be one of mine.”

The fact is that school bullying is a violation of both criminal law and civil law. Acts of school bullying may likely constitute criminal and civil assault and battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, criminal harassment, civil harassment, defamation of character (e.g., slander and libel), and invasion of privacy. A parent can also sue the school officials and staff for negligent supervision, hiring, retention and training of its staff, who have a duty to protect the children from harm. Most parents simply ignore such problems, which often have devastating impacts on a children’s sense of self-esteem, academic progress, health, and even potentially their very lives. The law is here to protect us, and we should make good use of it. Report crimes committed by children against other children, because the police and the District Attorney have a duty to investigate and punish all crimes. Courts of law will also hear civil lawsuits for the torts of assault, battery, emotional distress, and other torts mentioned above, and the parents of the bullies as well as the school staff may be ordered to pay the parents of the targeted child substantial money damages. This kind of litigation will certainly get the attention of our communities that school bullying is illegal, and it must be treated that way.

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