When we send our children to school, we entrust professional adults and school districts with the task of protecting the safety and well-being of our children.
Schools have protocols and systems in place to avoid and act proactively against bullying situations, however, when teachers and administrators fail to follow the procedures or act accordingly to protect students, they and the school can be held responsible for physical or emotional injuries that occur as a result.
Continue reading to learn more about recognizing school bullying, the steps to take if your child is being bullied at school, and what to do if you believe your child has been injured due to a school’s failure to protect your child and others.
What is Bullying?
Bullying is defined as the systematic abuse of power in the form of aggressive behavior or intentional harm-doing by peers. Such behavior is repetitive and relies on an imbalance of power between the bully and the victim.
Studies have shown that school-age victims of bullying can face long-term physical and psychological repercussions that stem from abuse. While “bullying” carries the connotation of physical harm, it is now known to encompass a range of repetitive abuse including:
- Physical: hitting, kicking, spitting, punching
- Verbal: teasing, threatening, name-calling
- Psychological: exclusion, spreading rumors, intimidating
- Sexual: touching, assault, exhibitionism
What to do if You Suspect Your Child is Being Bullied
If you suspect your child is being bullied in school it is important to contact the school district immediately. Alerting school leadership allows administrators and teachers the opportunity to initiate school policies, behavior plans, and other interventions to best protect all children. If the school does not take action as necessary, it is then possible to move forward with a lawsuit.
Often, bullying cases are considered non-viable because there is a lack of documentation and evidence regarding the situation, timeframes, and individuals involved. To establish documentation with the school, gather as much information from your child as possible and follow the steps below:
- Immediately contact your child’s teacher. Ask them to share as much as they can about any incidents that took place. If other teachers were witnesses, contact them as well for additional details.
- Contact school leadership to inform them of the situation and initiate school documentation.
- Document any injuries or evidence. Take photos of any noticeable physical injuries or screenshots of digital bullying. Include dates, hospital records, and as much detail as possible for future reference.
- Request footage from school security cameras to help better understand the situation and events, and provide additional proof. Footage can be deleted, so it is important to make this request as soon as possible and request that the school save the footage.
Withdrawing your child without alerting the school can make filing a claim nearly impossible in the future. If incidents are occurring on school property, notifying the school is an extremely important step in protecting your child and their rights as well as reaching a resolution.
Recognizing the Signs of Bullying
Not all children will not ask for help when it comes to bullying, so learning to recognize the signs of bullying is an important first step for parents and teachers. Signs of repeated and consistent bullying among school-aged children might include:
- Unexplainable injuries such as bruises or cuts
- Lost or destroyed clothing, books, electronics, or jewelry
- Faking illness to avoid school
- Difficulty sleeping or frequent nightmares
- Declining grades, or not wanting to go to school
- Sudden loss of friends or avoidance of social situations
- Emotional withdrawal or depression
What to do if a School Failed to Protect Your Child
School bullying is entirely preventable as long as school administrators take action. When schools dismiss concerns or do not appropriately address students or situations, they can be held accountable by law. Failure to address bullying concerns that lead to injury can take many forms. A teacher may leave students unattended, or the school administration could be aware of a bullying situation and fail to implement corrective action.
There are other circumstances where the school may know that specific behavior problems exist and are triggered by certain situations, and have plans in place that teachers fail to implement. Even with behavior plans in place, schools are still responsible for upholding those plans to avoid injury to students.
If bullying persists and your child is injured despite communication with the school, it may be time to consider a lawsuit. Working with an experienced and reliable team of school bullying attorneys can help you determine your rights and seek fair compensation for injuries against large school districts. Rodriguez & Associates is a leading representative of children in the Bakersfield Area who have suffered both physical and emotional bullying.
In 2023 the firm represented a student in a lawsuit against Kern High School District, California’s largest 9-12 school district. The civil jury found the school district to be liable for failing to protect the child who was sexually assaulted in a school bathroom when a student with a history of aggressive behavior was left unattended. In May 2023, the Rodriguez & Associates trial team secured a $2,300,000 verdict for the victim.
School Bullying in the 21st Century
In the age of technology, cyberbullying continues to cause alarm among parents, as it holds the potential to impact every child with free use of the internet, text messaging, and social media. While schools are generally not responsible for the actions of students outside of school grounds, California bullying laws apply to cyber-bullying that occurs on a school-owned device or messaging board or involves the school in any way. Under these state laws, schools can potentially be held liable in these situations. If you believe that your child is being victimized through cyberbullying it is key to follow the steps above and report details of any incidents to the school immediately.
Additionally, school bullying has been named as a factor in some of the most tragic school shootings in American history. California has been home to some of these terrible events and has been reported to have the most school shootings of any state since 1970, totaling 164.
In 2019, the firm’s founding partner Daniel Rodriguez, along with senior partner Chantal Trujillo, and partner Danay Gonzalez, represented the victim of a school shooting, proving that Taft Union High School ignored district policies and procedures, failed to inform the police about the reported threats, and failed informed the school shooter’s mom about the reports of concern surrounding her son. Ultimately the jury found the district to be 54% responsible for the incident and liable for over $2,500,000 in damages, a decision that was upheld on appeal in 2022.
The Bottom Line
When it comes to bullying, schools must take every reasonable action possible to protect students from persistent violence, aggression, and harassment. When a school fails to keep students safe due to behaviors that are persistent or dangerous, lead to suicide, or contribute to other personal injury, you may consider legal options.
If you feel your child has been hurt due to school bullying, contact the personal injury attorneys at Rodriguez & Associates to discuss your case.