Identifying Acts of School Bullying

October is the National Anti-Bullying month, yet the issue of bullying in schools remains headline news on a routine basis. Just today, I read about an incident where “two girls beat [the victim’s] head into the wall and floor when the teacher was out of the room,” causing “permanent hearing loss in her right ear.”[1] Worse still are the stories where the victim took his or her own life as an escape from the daily torment inflicted by bullies.

Without a doubt, parents are scared for the safety of their children. In her on-the-air speech addressing an email she received from a viewer critical of her weight, Jennifer Livingston of WKBT News 8 in Wisconsin admitted that “as the mother of three young girls [the growing prevalence of school bullying] scares me to death.”[2] Ms. Livingston further emphasized, “The internet has become a weapon. Our schools have become a battleground.”[3] Therefore, it is imperative that you, as a parent, are able to recognize acts of bullying and report incidents to your child’s school. The former is the focus of this article.

Recognizing Bullying Behaviors

Under Connecticut law for over a year now, bullying is defined as “the repeated use of a written, oral or electronic communication or physical act by one or more students directed at another student within the same school district which:

  1. Physically or emotionally harms the student or damages that student’s property;
  2. Places such student in reasonable fear of harm to himself or herself, or of damage to his or her property;
  3. Creates a hostile school environment for the student;
  4. Infringes on that student’s rights at school; or
  5. Substantially disrupts the educational process or the orderly operation of the school.”[4]

Bullying on the basis of the following actual or perceived traits also qualifies: race or color; religion; ancestry; national origin; gender; sexual orientation; gender identity or expression; socioeconomic status; academic status; physical appearance; and mental, physical, developmental, or sensory disabilities.[5]

The Connecticut legislature has also taken aim at cyber-bullying, defined as “any act of bullying through the use of Internet, interactive and digital technologies, cellular mobile telephone or other mobile electronic devices or any electronic communications.”[6] Various forms of communication fall within this broad definition, including Facebook posts and messages, emails, text messages, live webcam sessions meant to ridicule or humiliate another student.

Notwithstanding these statutory definitions, you should review your child’s student handbook or school website to determine how your school district defines bullying. If neither source provides the policy, you should ask your school for a copy; this request must be fulfilled immediately.[7]

If you are the parent of a child who has been bullied or harassed at school, it is imperative that you consult with an experienced and knowledgeable school law practitioner. The lawyers at Maya Murphy, P.C., assist clients in Bridgeport, Darien, Fairfield, Greenwich, New Canaan, Norwalk, Stamford, and Westport. If you have any questions regarding bullying or any other education law matter, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya. He may be reached at Maya Murphy, P.C., 266 Post Road East, Westport, Connecticut (located in Fairfield County), by telephone at (203) 221-3100, or by email at JMaya@mayalaw.com.


[1] “Two girls accused of beating, bullying student taken into custody,” by WDRB News. October 16, 2012: http://www.wdrb.com/story/19835044/two-girls?hpt=ju_bn4

[2] “Star brother Ron Livingston defends ‘fat’ anchor sister, Jennifer,” by News Limited Network. October 5, 2012: http://www.news.com.au/entertainment/celebrity/tv-anchor-jennifer-livingston-takes-on-bully-who-criticised-her-weight/story-e6frfmqi-1226488835303

[3] Id.

[4] 2011 Conn. Pub. Acts 11-232, § 1(a)(1).

[5] Id.

[6] Id. at § 1(a)(2).

[7] “Bullying and Harassment in Connecticut: A Guide for Parents and Guardians,” by the Connecticut State Department of Education, on pp.5. http://www.sde.ct.gov/sde/lib/sde/pdf/equity/title_ix/bullying_q_and_a.pdf