“Jumping off the gw bridge sorry.” This was the “farewell message” of Tyler Clementi, an eighteen-year-old Rutgers University student, posted on Facebook after he discovered his roommate was spying on his sexual encounters with another man.
The Prevalence of Bullying
It almost goes without saying that bullying (and its technological brother, cyberbullying) is one of the most important topics of school law today. National surveys and studies conducted over the past several decades, along with the high-profile suicides of Clementi, Phoebe Prince, and Megan Meier, have provided startling information on the prevalence of bullying tactics both in person and through Internet channels of communication.
Indeed, “70 percent of middle and high school students have experienced bullying at some point,” with approximately 5 to 15 percent described as “chronic victims.” Unfortunately, less than half actually report such incidents, and the short- and long-term effects on victims can be particularly devastating, such as depression, anxiety, poor health, and decreased academic performance and school participation.
How the nation has reacted has been as diverse as its population. Efforts in Connecticut have been particularly extensive and comprehensive (as discussed here), though many States still find themselves unwilling, for whatever reason, to extend protections to particularly vulnerable groups of students, such as LGBT. Particularly shocking is the prevalence of laws specifically written to stigmatize LGBT students, mandating negative portrayal by the very faculty and staff we’d expect would protect students regardless of their differences.
Liability in Cases of Harassment and Bullying
Courts appear more and more willing to subject school administrators, Boards of Education, and even towns to liability for the harms brought upon students at the hands of their peers. In the case of Tyler Clementi, however, the parents elected not to pursue litigation against the school or Tyler’s roommate because “[t]he family got to a place where they really felt an obligation and desire to use the publicity for positive purposes.” Tyler’s roommate, Dharun Ravi, was convicted earlier this year of crimes related to the spying incidents, though the seemingly lenient sentence has been widely called into question.
If you personally or, if a parent, your child has been subject to bullying in school or on the Internet, it is imperative that you take to heart the message of Jennifer Livingston, a TV journalist thrust into the spotlight this past week regarding a viewer’s bullying of her weight:
To all the children out there who feel lost, who are struggling with your weight, with the color of your skin, your sexual preference, your disability, even the acne on your face. Listen to me right now. Do not let your self-worth be defined by bullies. Learn from my experience that the cruel words of one are nothing compared to the shouts of many.
Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.
Should you have any questions regarding school bullying or any other education law matter, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya, Esq. 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.
“Bullying: A Module for Teachers,” by Sandra Graham, PhD, of the American Psychological Association. Accessed September 24, 2012: www.apa.org/education/k12/bullying.aspx
 See, for example, the following info-graphic: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:School_bullying_laws_in_the_United_States.svg&page=1
 See, for example, “States with Safe School Laws,” by GLSEN. Accessed October 8, 2012: http://www.glsen.org/cgi-bin/iowa/all/library/record/2344.html
 “Tyler Clementi’s family decides not to sue,” by Dominique Debucquoy-Dodley. Published October 6, 2012. Accessed October 8, 2012: http://www.cnn.com/2012/10/05/justice/new-jersey-tyler-clementi-lawsuit/index.html
 “Dharun Ravi apologizes for ‘childish choices,’ plans to head to jail,” by Logan Burruss. Published May 30, 2012. Accessed October 8, 2012: http://www.cnn.com/2012/05/29/justice/new-jersey-ravi-sentence/index.html
 See, for example, “Is 30-day sentence fair for student who bullied gay roommate?” by the CNN “This Just In” blog. Published May 21, 2012. Accessed October 8, 2012: http://news.blogs.cnn.com/2012/05/21/is-30-day-sentence-fair-for-student-who-bullied-gay-roommate/
 “Star brother Ron Livingston defends ‘fat’ anchor sister, Jennifer,” by News Limited Network. Published October 5, 2012. Accessed October 8, 2012: http://www.news.com.au/entertainment/celebrity/tv-anchor-jennifer-livingston-takes-on-bully-who-criticised-her-weight/story-e6frfmqi-1226488835303