Bullying: When is it Time to Call a Lawyer?
“This year, over 5 million American kids will be bullied at school, online, on the bus, at home, through their cell phones and on the streets of their towns,” say the creators of the new feature film “Bully.” This documentary shows a group of parents, who came together after losing their children to bully-provoked suicides, forming “The Bully Project,” an anti-bullying advocacy group that wants to stop bullying before it happens. To do this, they set out on a crusade to change the attitudes of school administrators who traditionally and typically see bullying as a part of school life that cannot be changed.
“Kids will be kids. Boys will be boys. They’re just cruel at this age.” (This quote comes from a school administrator depicted in the trailer for the film).
Bullying in school has attracted national attention after the suicide of gay teenager, Kenneth Weishuhn Jr. The teenager killed himself as a result of being harassed with anti-gay text and online messages, verbal abuse and threats of physical violence. The young man’s death has become a rallying cry for anti-bullying advocates, especially those in the gay community.
A flurry of anti-bullying activity in Iowa followed Weishuhn’s suicide. A major state newspaper devoted an entire front page to an anti-bullying editorial and Iowa State Representative Christopher Hall introduced a bill to create preventive measures against school-based hate and violence.
How Do You Know if Your Child is Being Bullied?
Dan Olweus, one of the pioneers in research on the subject of bullying, says, “A person is bullied when he or she is exposed, repeatedly and over time, to negative actions on the part of one or more other persons, and he or she has difficulty defending himself or herself.”
According to the Violence Prevention Works organization, Olweus’ definition includes three components that parents and victims should look for to identify bullying:
- Bullying is aggressive behavior that involves unwanted, negative actions.
- Bullying involves a pattern of behavior repeated over time.
- Bullying involves an imbalance of power or strength.
Prime examples of bullying include:
- Name calling
- Verbal or written abuse
- Exclusion from activities
- Exclusion from social situations
- Physical abuse
Many lawyers believe that when a child is threatened verbally, physically or emotionally on school grounds it’s time to take action, and that early intervention and refusing to ignore the problem is key.
When Should Parents of a Bullied Child Call a Lawyer?
When all else fails, parents of children who have been bullied are resorting to lawsuits. They’re not just trying to get justice in the form of criminal or civil penalties against the bullies or their parents, they are also taking on entire school systems.
Sam Wolfe, an attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center, who specializes in civil rights cases, told thegazette.com, “In general, more of these types of lawsuits are being filed, and the courts are coming out with stronger opinions.”
Sam Goldberg, a lawyer with Altman & Altman says, “The time to call a lawyer is when you’re getting nowhere with the school or the parents of the bully.” According to Goldberg, a lawyer can put pressure on the school to take action and take the bullying seriously. He also says that when parents try to go to the school or police without a lawyer it makes the problem worse because their pleas are either ignored or they lose control of the situation to a police investigation. In Goldberg’s opinion, calling a lawyer insures the problem will be handled effectively rather than hidden behind an administrative smokescreen.
The Bully Project continues to make progress, and as the movie “Bully” shows, school culture among kids is starting to change. Even with new laws being created to handle bullying the frontline responsibility for recognizing and handling a bully problem will be on the parents of the bullied child. Hiring a lawyer to help with your child’s bullying problem can put the right kind of pressure on the school to resolve the problem and take it seriously before it gets out of hand.