Many parents naturally assume that their child is safely in the care and supervision of their school’s teachers and administrators. While schools may try their best to protect students from various physical safety issues that could occur on school premises, it is more difficult for school personnel to protect students from bullying. Bullying not only has a serious impact on students’ psychological well-being, it profoundly interferes with their ability to learn.
While anti-bullying education and awareness has become more wide-spread during the last few years, a study by the United States Departments of Justice and Education found that, in 2017, about 20% of students ages 12–18 reported being bullied at school and among those 41% thought the bullying would happen again. A higher percentage of female students (62%) than male students (48%) reported that those who bullied them had the ability to influence what other students thought of them. Other scholarly studies have reported that students with cognitive disabilities face higher rates of bullying than their non-disabled peers.
Parents not only need to be vigilant about bullying involving their child but should be aware of laws enacted to protect their child’s right to a safe educational environment. In New Jersey, the Anti Bullying Bill of Rights Act requires each public school district to adopt a policy prohibiting “harassment, intimidation and bullying” of a student on school property, at school-sponsored functions and on a school bus, and procedures to investigate and address those acts.
Harassment, intimidation and bullying includes written, verbal or physical acts reasonably perceived as motivated by an actual or perceived distinguishing characteristic (e.g., race, religion, gender, sexual orientation and disability), that either physically or emotionally harms the student or damages the student’s property, or places the student in reasonable fear of such harm, or creates a hostile educational environment. The conduct also has to substantially disrupt or interfere with the orderly operation of the school or the rights of other students.
Cyberbullying, in particular, is a serious problem facing students today and can be especially devastating. Cyberbullies victimize in ways that can go virtually undetected by parents and school personnel. By using social media, instant messaging, and texting, a cyberbully can reach a victim any time of day, both during school and outside school grounds. A cyberbully has the capacity to reach the entire student body, causing the victim or victims to feel humiliated, hopeless and alone.
In 2019, legislation entitled “Mallory’s Law” (named after 12- year-old Mallory Grossman who tragically ended her life after suffering relentless bullying by some of her classmates) was introduced to the New Jersey Legislature to amend the Act. The amendment would, among other things, provide for civil liability of a parent or guardian of a minor found guilty of harassment.
Having strong anti-bullying laws, policies and procedures in place is not always enough if parents either don’t understand their child’s rights or act quickly enough. To prevent bullying, parents must be proactive.
Parents can protect their child by:
- Obtaining a copy of the school district’s anti-harassment, intimidation and bullying policies and procedures and become familiar with examples of those acts, the procedures for reporting infractions to school officials, and the investigation process that the school is required to follow.
- Discussing examples of bullying with their child and encouraging him or her to talk to them, their teachers or an adult with whom they feel comfortable. Parents must take bullying complaints seriously.
- Frequently monitoring their child’s use of electronic communication and immediately report any infractions to the principal in writing with as much detail as possible to enable the school to promptly and thoroughly investigate the alleged acts.
- For disabled students who may have difficulty socializing with peers and processing their environment, requesting that their child’s Individualized Education Program include objectives addressing development of socialization and self-advocacy skills.
- Asking school administrators what measures, policies and programs the school implements to teach non-disabled students tolerance for disabled students.
- Discussing any concerns about the school’s compliance with the anti-bullying law with an attorney.
To learn more about Mallory’s Army Foundation, please visit www.mallorysarmy.org.