When Are School Officials Liable For Bullying

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Is bullying illegal? Can school officials be held liable for student bullying? When are school officials liable for bullying?

When is bullying illegal? Each state has its own laws that define bullying. It is illegal when it violates a student's civil rights or is discriminatory. Bullying often overlaps with harassment.

Most states have laws that require school officials to take action to stop bullying. School officials can be held liable for bullying if the following conditions are met:

  1. A student was harassed because they belonged to a protected class. Protected classes include: race, national origin, color, gender, or disability.
  2. The harassment that the student faced was severe and pervasive. It created a hostile school environment and interfered with the student's access to education or ability to learn.
  3. School officials were aware of the bullying and took no action or acted indifferently to the bullying.

The bullying can be verbal and/or physical. Many times it causes the students grades to drop, it causes physical injuries, it causes fear, and it causes them to have to switch schools. School officials have a legal responsibility in most states to take action when they are aware of bullying occurring. If they ignore it, act indifferent, or tolerate it then they may become liable.

What should a school official do if they discover bullying is occurring? They have a responsibility to investigate the claims and if those claims have merit then they must take action. School officials may have the right to take disciplinary actions if they reasonably suspect any bullying occurring. This includes any cyber bullying when the devices are brought onto campus.  

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