Why are we still talking about bullying? It remains a hot topic among school districts and attorneys, and was the topic of a Friday Council of School Attorneys’ session at the 2013 School Law Seminar in San Diego.
Presenters Seamus Boyce of Church, Church, Hittle & Atrium, Jim D. Long, senior attorney with the U.S Department of Justice Office of Civil Rights (OCR) and Anne Littlefield, of Shipman & Goodwin outlined the issues that continue to challenge school districts about preventing bullying while not violating students First Amendment rights.
“It’s a moving target,” said Boyce. “We must try to avoid some of the negative outcomes for our clients.”
Littlefield outlined some of the current cases of bullying facing school districts and gave some advice for lawyers to take back to their districts:
“A few things to avoid saying on the record: ‘Boys will be boys,’ and ‘Teens will be teens.’ Don’t call it a prank. When you do that, you are communicating to students, parents, community and teachers that you will not take it seriously.”
About OCR enforcement, Long said, “There are rules about this stuff, and the rules are your friends. Follow the rules. That’s what I tell school districts.” Schools must have statements of non-harassment and make sure there are procedures that provide for prompt resolution, he said.
According to Boyce, 49 states have laws regarding peer bullying. These laws often have specific requirements for districts and school boards, including forming policies, procedures, and preventions plans.
Issues of cyberbullying, social network bullying, bullying off-campus and bullying counterclaims based on First Amendment rights are trending right now, said Boyce.