HOW TO STOP A BULLY?
HOW TO STOP A BULLY?
We hear a lot about bullying these days. It’s a common buzzword. Despite its commonality, it’s not always easy to identify.
You might want to know…
- What is bullying exactly? Wouldn’t I know it if I saw it?
- What if it happens outside of school property?
- How can I protect my student?
First of all, what exactly is harassment, intimidation, and bullying, or HIB?
The legal definition of HIB in New Jersey is:
- Any gesture, written, verbal, physical act, or electronic communication that takes place on school property, at a school-sponsored function, or school bus. Electronic communication means a communication transmitted by means of an electronic device, including but not limited to a telephone, cellular phone, computer, or remotely activated paging device.
- Incidents of HIB including cyber-bullying that occur away from school grounds may also be included if they endanger the safety of students or staff.
- Motivated by any actual or perceived characteristic, such as race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, and expression, or mental, physical, or sensory disability or any other distinguishing characteristic.
- When a reasonable person should know, under the circumstances, that the act will have the effect of physically or emotionally harming the pupil or damaging his/her property, placing the pupil in reasonable fear of harm to his/her person or personal property.
- Insulting or demeaning any pupil or group of pupils in such as way as to cause substantial disruption in or substantial interference with the orderly operation of the school.
- When any behaviors associated with sexual conduct, as defined by the Office of Civil Rights, are sufficiently severe, persistent, or pervasive so that they interfere with student/school performance or create an intimidating, hostile, or offensive school environment, these behaviors become sexual harassment.
- Also, a pupil who exercises power and control over another pupil, either in isolated incidents or patterns of HIB behavior. (N.J.S.A. 18A: 37-14 (2011)
HIB can occur even outside of school grounds.
Sometimes, reading and digesting examples of HIB can help you understand the law. Here are a few examples of incidents that were determined to be HIB:
One day in the cafeteria, a sixth grader made the following comments about his classmate’s vegetarian lifestyle:
- “It’s not good to not eat meat.”
- “He should eat meat because he’d be smarter and have bigger brains.”
- “Vegetarians are idiots.”
The BOE determined that this sixth-grade student had committed an act of HIB. The board ruled these comments:
- were verbal communications
- that were reasonably perceived to be motivated by a distinguishing characteristic of vegetarians; and
- that the comments substantially interfered with the rights of the victim; and
- had the effect of insulting and demeaning him.
The parents of the sixth grader appealed to the commissioner of education, but the commissioner upheld the ruling. The student was disciplined by serving five lunch-time detentions.
Three female students were having lunch together. They made comments among themselves that the eating habits of another student, the victim, had changed and that she was anorexic. The girls took the victim’s iPod and texted her boyfriend that she was anorexic. The BOE determined that these acts comprised an act of HIB because:
- they were reasonably perceived to be motivated by a distinguishing characteristic, a perceived eating disorder, anorexia;
- these acts substantially interfered with the victim’s rights; and
- had the effect of insulting or demeaning her.
Does the alleged bully have rights? What happens if your child is accused of bullying?
NJ Law says parents “shall be entitled to receive information about the investigation, in accordance with federal and State law and regulation, including the nature of the investigation, whether the district found evidence of harassment, intimidation, or bullying…”. NJSA 18A:37-15 6.(d)
What this means in practice is that the principal calls the parents of all involved parties to let them know that a HIB was alleged and that an investigation is undertaken. They then are entitled to a notice about whether it is founded and on what basis.
If parents of the alleged bully wish to appeal the ruling of the board of education, they have the right to appeal to the commissioner of education. The standard for such cases is whether the board’s decision was rational and if there were no procedural violations, then a determination of the board will be upheld. It does not matter whether a judge agrees or disagrees with the board’s determination. Without new evidence to support a reversal or a modification of the decision, appealing the board’s decision to the board or the commissioner will likely be unsuccessful. However, it is possible to have the commissioner rule against the BOE and overturn its decision if the BOE has not properly proven the facts which underly the BOE’s allegation of bullying. This can occur whether or not the acts of the alleged bully constitute an act of HIB. Parents of the alleged bully do retain their due process rights to make a statement to the board, the commissioner, or both if necessary.
Prevalence of HIB.
In 2016, the Journal of Adolescent Health reported the statistics of cyberbullying among United States middle and high school-aged adolescents. While the global statistics on cyberbullying vary depending on the definitions used, the statistics indicate that cyberbullying is a common everyday occurrence. Rates of cyberbullying hover around 15% in the United States but are reported as high as 72%. Social media is rife with it, with 42% of young people on Instagram reporting cyberbullying.
Why be concerned about cyberbullying and HIB?
Studies show that cyberbullying is directly linked to physical and mental health problems. These include depression, somatic symptoms, substance use, and even suicidality.
What You Can Do to Protect Your Child
- Talk to your kids about bullying. Explain what it is.
- Help to build a safe school environment. Communicate with school staff. Listen to their concerns and make suggestions of your own.
- Help to build community-wide connections and knowledge about bullying.
If a student is classified as eligible for special education and related services or has a disability that adversely affects their educational performance, and is involved in a bullying incident, the school district should hold an IEP meeting to determine whether the student’s current program is meeting the student’s needs.
If you have questions or concerns about your student, contact the attorneys at Sussan Greenwald & Wesler for information and help. You can reach us by phone at 609-409-3500.