Posts tagged with "cyber-bullying"

What Steps Do Anti-Bullying Laws Take in Connecticut?

Public Act 11-232 takes steps to prevent bullying and to ensure that every child has the right to learn in public schools without the fear of teasing, humiliation or assault.  Schools are required  to: (1) adopt a clear policy against bullying behaviors; (2) train all school staff who interact with students on how to prevent bullying; (3) ensure that immediate action is taken whenever staff observes bullying or receives a report; and (4) gather data to access bullying in the school.

Further, the definition of “bullying” has been amended to add cyber-bullying, to clarify what constitutes bullying, and to eliminate the requirement that the bullying must exist during the school year only.  The new definition includes enumerated categories to clarify that bullying includes acts based on actual or perceived characteristics of students.

If you have any questions related to education law in Connecticut, please contact Joseph C. Maya, Esq. at (203) 221-3100 or e-mail him directly at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.

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

Student’s Negligence Action Against School

Student’s Negligence Action Against School, City of Stamford Survives Motion for Summary Judgment

Jesse was a twenty-year-old special education student attending high school in Stamford. She repeatedly informed teachers and school officials about the unwanted romantic advances made by her classmate, Jonathan, but no action was ever taken. On February 28, 2005, Jesse asked to use the restroom located in the special education classroom; she was then sexually assaulted by Jonathan. Both students were sent to the office of the special education coordinator, and Jesse explained what occurred. Despite this knowledge, school officials permitted the two to ride on the same school bus home, during which Jesse was teased and called a liar by Jonathan.

Various teachers and staff, the Board of Education, and even the City of Stamford were later sued in a negligence action filed by Jesse. She contended that “the defendants were aware of [Jonathan’s behavior], but they failed to take appropriate measures to protect [her] from the sexual assault.”[1] However, in their motion for summary judgment, the defendants claimed protection through governmental immunity.

Municipal employees are “liable for the misperformance of ministerial acts, but has qualified immunity in the performance of governmental acts…”[2] Basically, governmental acts are supervisory and discretionary, while ministerial acts must “be performed in a prescribed manner without the exercise of judgment or discretion.”[3] However, even if a defendant successfully claims, as they did in this case, that the acts in question were discretionary, thus invoking governmental immunity, a plaintiff may still defeat a motion for summary judgment by asserting one of three exceptions (discussed in greater detail here): in this case, the identifiable person-imminent harm exception.

The identifiable person-imminent harm exception requires a showing of three things: “(1) an imminent harm; (2) an identifiable victim; and (3) a public official to whom it is apparent that his or her conduct is likely to subject that victim to that harm.”[4] A person will be deemed “identifiable… if the harm occurs within a limited temporal and geographical zone, involving a temporary condition;”[5] a harm is imminent if it is “ready to take place within the immediate future.”[6]

In discussing the motion to dismiss, the Court agreed that Jesse was an identifiable victim of the assault, but she failed to meet the imminent harm requirement. There was no evidence on the record as to when the previous sexual advances were made, nor did she show that the defendants should have known the sexual assault would take place on or about February 28, 2005.[7] However, the Court agreed that the exception was satisfied as to the school officials’ conduct in allowing the two to ride home together:

[Two school officials] admit in their affidavits that they knew some sort of sexual conduct had occurred between [Jesse] and [Jonathan]. Despite this fact, they did not stop [Jesse] from taking the bus with [Jonathan]. At that time, [Jesse] was an identifiable victim of harassment by [Jonathan], and the risk was limited in geographic and temporal scope because [Jesse] and [Jonathan] were riding the bus together and the risk only lasted the duration of the bus ride home. Moreover, the risk of harm was arguably imminent because the dismissal bell had just sounded to release the students early because of a snowstorm, and the bus would presumably be leaving soon thereafter.

Thus, the Court denied the motion for summary judgment as to most of the counts in the complaint (it granted the motion as to one negligence per se count). Although the lawsuit was later withdrawn[8] by Jesse, this case nonetheless serves as another example of a student and/or parent surviving a motion for summary judgment in the face of defendants asserting governmental immunity protection.

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

Should you have any questions about any 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.


[1] Estrada v. Stamford Board of Education et al., Superior Court, judicial district of Stamford, Docket No. CT 06 5002313. 2010 Conn. Super. LEXIS 3022 (November 19, 2010, Tobin, J.).

[2] Bonington v. Westport, 297 Conn. 297, 306, 999 A.2d 700 (2010).

[3] Id.

[4] Cotto v. Board of Education, 294 Conn. 265, 273, 984 A.2d 58 (2009).

[5] Id. at 275-76.

[6] Stavrakis v. Price, Superior Court, judicial district of Litchfield, Docket No. CV 10 6001285, 2010 Conn. Super. LEXIS 2257 (September 7, 2010, Roche, J.).

[7] See Footnote 1.

[8] http://civilinquiry.jud.ct.gov/CaseDetail/PublicCaseDetail.aspx?DocketNo=FSTCV065002313S

Connecticut Supreme Court Addresses the Identifiable Person-Imminent Harm Exception to Governmental Immunity

In a decision released just last week, the Supreme Court of Connecticut had an opportunity to address municipal immunity, and specifically, the “identifiable victim-imminent harm” exception to discretionary act immunity.

In Haynes v. City of Middletown, the plaintiff, acting on behalf of her plaintiff son, sought to recover damages for negligence from the City of Middletown after her son was pushed into a broken locker by a fellow high school student. He sustained personal injuries. In response to plaintiff’s complaint, the defendant city invoked a defense of governmental immunity.  In their response, the plaintiffs failed to plead any exceptions to the defendant’s claim of immunity. A jury found for the victim, however the trial court granted the defendant’s motion to set aside the verdict on the ground of governmental immunity.  The appellate court affirmed the trial court’s decision to set aside the verdict, holding that the plaintiffs never made the identifiable victim-imminent harm argument to the defendant’s claim of municipal immunity.  The identifiable victim-imminent harm exception is one of three exceptions to discretionary act immunity that Connecticut courts have carved out.  Where defendants’ acts are discretionary, they may invoke governmental immunity, barring a plaintiff’s claim against the governmental entity.  However, the identifiable victim-imminent harm exception applies when the circumstances make it apparent to the public officer charged with the exercise of discretion that his or her failure to act would be likely to subject an identifiable person to imminent harm.

In the instant case, the Supreme Court reversed the appellate court’s decision and remanded the case to the appellate court for consideration of the sole issue of the plaintiff’s failure to plead the identifiable victim-imminent harm exception.  The Supreme Court found that, because the Appellate Court didn’t hear full arguments on that specific issue, it was not in a position to decide the case on that issue.  Thus, the Supreme Court remanded the case on that one, sole ground.

Decisions like this serve as reminders that it is imperative to consult with attorneys who are well-versed in education law and able to effectively litigate this type of claim.  The identifiable victim-imminent harm exception is invoked in bullying and cyberbullying cases, when victims of bullying seek action against the school district.  If you have questions about bullying, cyberbullying, or education law, do not hesitate to contact Joseph Maya, Esq. in our Westport office, at either 203-221-3100, or at JMaya@mayalaw.com.

Cyberbullying and Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress

Cyberbullying

“Cyberbullying,” which has been defined by the National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC) as “similar to other types of bullying, except that it takes place online and through text messages sent to cell phones,” is a pervasive problem that has plagued schools since the rapid rise of social networking sites, such as Facebook and Twitter.  The anonymity of the Internet allows users to harass others with impunity, and many young users feel invincible while operating under the guise of pseudonyms and screen names.

Unfortunately, the behavior of cyberbullies, though demoralizing and painful to their victims, may not rise to criminal activity.  However, victims of bullying should be aware that there are other legal avenues.  Depending on the severity and length of the conduct, civil theories, such as the tort theory of intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED), may be a possible theory of relief.

Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress

IIED requires a showing by a plaintiff (the victim of the bullying) that the bully intended to inflict emotional distress, that the conduct of the bully was extreme and outrageous, that the bully’s conduct was the cause of the victim’s distress, and that the emotional distress sustained by the victim of bullying was severe.  Because mere insults and threats have not been found to rise to the level of severe conduct, there is a high threshold that must be met to prevail on an IIED claim.

If you or your child has been a victim of cyberbullying, the attorneys at Maya Murphy, P.C. have extensive experience in education law and are prepared to render advice on school and bullying issues.  No student should have to face the humiliation and pain of peer torment.  If you are being cyberbullied, keep any emails, IMs, or other communications.

If you have any questions regarding cyberbulling, or any education law matter, contact Joseph Maya at 203-221-3100 or by email at JMaya@MayaLaw.com.

Connecticut School Districts and Bullying: What Can Parents Do?

I was greeted this morning with a very unfortunate email.  The email concerned bullying in Westport Schools and included a heart wrenching video of an 8th grade girl claiming to be a victim of bullying in Westport schools. (http://patch.com/A-gcKG) It is just not enough to feel sorry for this victim of bullying, we need to question the effectiveness of the current law and policies in place to avoid the tragic consequences that other towns have dealt with because their students were victims of bullying.

I previously blogged about the revisions to Connecticut’s law against bullying in 2008.  Under Connecticut General Statute section 10-222d, the law requires “any overt acts by a student or group of students directed against another student with the intent to ridicule, harass, humiliate or intimidate the other student while on school grounds, at a school sponsored activity or on a school bus, which acts are committed more than once against any student during the school year.” In addition to definitional changes, the statute requires:

  1.  teachers and other staff members who witness acts of bullying to make written notification to school administrators;
  2. prohibits disciplinary actions based solely on the basis of an anonymous report of bullying;
  3. requires prevention strategies as well as interventions strategies;
  4. requires that parents of a student who commits verified acts of bullying or against whom such bullying occurred be notified by each school and be invited to attend at least one meeting;
  5. requires school to annually report the number of verified acts of bullying to the State Department of Education (DOE);
  6. no later than February 1, 2009, boards must submit the bullying policies to the DOE;
  7. no later than July 1, 2009, boards must include their bullying policy in their school district’s publications of rules, procedures and standards of conduct for school and in all of its student handbooks, and
  8.  effective July 1, 2009, boards must now provide in-service training for its teacher and administrators on prevention of bullying.

Westport responded to the requirements of this statute with a comprehensive bullying policy which can be found on the school district’s website under the tab for parents, and then selecting policies.  Here is the direct link to the policy: (http://www2.westport.k12.ct.us/media/policies/prohibition_against_bullying_5131.911_revised_8.25.2008.pdf)

Armed with Connecticut’s law and Westport’s policy, what should we do as parents, community members, and professionals?  I do not profess to have the answers but at a minimum, we should discuss this with our children, question the school administrators, guidance staff and teachers. Together we should challenge ourselves to make a difference using the channels available to us.  There are ways that we can help to effectuate change before it is too late.  If you know of a child affected by bullying, please act on their behalf.  Not every student will post a video to tell you this is happening. If the school is not addressing the bullying in a meaningful way to eradicate the conduct, legal redress is available and the courts will readily intervene.

If you have any questions please feel free to contact me by telephone in the Firm’s Westport office at (203) 221-3100 or by e-mail at SMaya@Mayalaw.com. Attorney Maya is a partner at Maya Murphy, P.C. Her practice is limited to Education Law and Trusts and Estates.