Posts tagged with "school bullying"

“I Have Nobody… I Need Someone”: A Teenager’s Haunting Legacy

I’m struggling to stay in this world, because everything just touches me so deeply. I’m not doing this for attention. I’m doing this to be an inspiration and to show that I can be strong. I did things to myself to make pain go away, because I’d rather hurt myself then someone else. Haters are haters but please don’t hate, although im sure I’ll get them. I hope I can show you guys that everyone has a story, and everyones future will be bright one day, you just gotta pull through. I’m still here aren’t I ?

-AmandaTodd

In a heart-wrenching video[1] posted to YouTube five weeks ago, 15-year-old Amanda Todd revealed to the world the bullying, abuse, teasing, and ridicule she endured on a daily basis by her peers at school and on the Internet. At the end of her nearly 9-minute index card confession, she simply wrote: “I have nobody… I need someone L My name is Amanda Todd…”

On October 10, 2012, Amanda took her own life.[2]

Over the past couple of weeks, a colleague and I have gone into fourth gear posting articles regarding bullying and, as I’ve described it before, its technological brother, cyberbullying. Nearly three out of every four students face some form of bullying, with 5-15 percent characterized as “chronic victims.”[3] Though nearly every State has some form of anti-bullying legislation, many have questioned its effectiveness and sources: to quote Jennifer Livingston of CBS WKBT, “this behavior is learned… We need to teach our children to be kind, not critical, and we need to do that by example.”[4] A Canadian social psychologist described Amanda’s death as the consequence of “a generation [raised to be] passive bystanders,” indicating the problem as one of community rather than institution.[5] Thus, despite the laws on the books, bullying tactics will undoubtedly remain pervasive and claim more victims.

Bullying and its impact on children and young adults is no joke, and both the short- and long-term effects can be devastating. We need only remember Tyler Clementi, Phoebe Prince, Megan Meier, and now Amanda Todd as harsh, stark reminders of this lesson. As a parent, it is imperative that your child understands that he or she ought not view their self-worth through the eyes of their tormentors.[6]

Should you have any questions regarding school 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.

By Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.


[1] “My story: Struggling, bullying, suicide, self harm,” by Amanda Todd. September 7, 2012: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vOHXGNx-E7E

[2] “Bullied teen Amanda Todd took her own life, B.C. Coroners Service confirms,” by Tiffany Crawford. October 12, 2012: http://www.vancouversun.com/life/Bullied+teen+Amanda+Todd+took+life+Coroners+Service+confirms/7381793/story.html

[3] “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

[4] “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

[5] “Bullying victim Amanda Todd’s death a consequence of ‘passive bystanders,’ says expert,” by Misty Harris. October 12, 2012: http://www.calgaryherald.com/news/national/Bullying+victim+Amanda+Todd+death+consequence+passive/7382674/story.html

[6] See Footnote 4.

Legislative Efforts to Combat School Bullying

“Bullying cannot be a rite of passage in our nation’s schools. Instead, our schools must be safe and nurturing environments that promote learning and full participation by all students. Bullying, sexual harassment and gender stereotyping of any student, including LGBT students, have no place in our nation’s schools. We must work to stop these abusive behaviors when they take place, repair their harmful effects and prevent them from happening in the future. We will use every tool in our law enforcement arsenal to ensure that all students have access to equal educational opportunities.” ~ Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division

Thirteen years ago, I was a mere high school freshman when the Columbine shootings occurred. This incident plunged the nation into discussion that was long overdue: the problem of school bullying. According to national surveys, “70 percent of middle and high school students have experienced bullying at some point,” with approximately 5 to 15 percent described as “chronic victims.”[1] 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.

Although bullying was cited as a potential motivator in Columbine and subsequent shooting sprees (such as the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre), as the years passed bullying once more appeared to creep out of the limelight and back into the shadows. However, this issue was hurled back onto the national stage with the hanging suicide of Phoebe Prince in nearby South Hadley, Massachusetts. Prince endured months of insults and taunting from female classmates, both in person and through Facebook, before she took her own life. This prompted communities nationwide to “crack down on bullying,”[2] while lawmakers in Boston “stepp[ed] up efforts to pass a bullying-prevention measure targeting the type of taunting” that Prince was subject to on a routine basis.[3] This resulted in the passage of “An Act Relative to Bullying in Schools.”[4]

Other states naturally followed suit, including Connecticut. Public Act No. 11-232, called “An Act Concerning the Strengthening of School Bullying Laws,”[5] became effective July 1, 2011. This Act was later codified and provided a comprehensive scheme concerning anti-bullying school policy requirements, prevention and intervention strategy, and analysis of anti-bullying policies, while behavior that constituted bullying was clearly defined.[6] In addition, the Connecticut State Department of Education has stepped up efforts to disseminate information regarding bullying as well as steps to take to file complaints. At the very least, teachers and administrators are no longer left off the hook for turning a blind eye when approached by student victims of bullying.

Should you have any questions regarding school bullying or any other question relating to education law matters, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya, Esq. at Maya Murphy, P.C.’s Westport office located in Fairfield County at (203) 221-3100 or at JMaya@mayalaw.com.

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.


[1] “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

[2] “Teen’s suicide prompts a look at bullying,” by Kathy McCabe. January 24, 2010: www.boston.com/news/education/k_12/articles/2010/01/24/teens_suicide_prompts_a_look_at_bullying/

[3] “Bullying legislation gains new urgency,” by James Vaznis. January 26, 2010: www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2010/01/26/beacon_hill_lawmakers_see_urgent_need_for_antibullying_bill/

[4] “An Act Relative to Bullying in Schools”: www.malegislature.gov/Laws/SessionLaws/Acts/2010/Chapter92

[5] Public Act. No. 11-232, “An Act Concerning the Strengthening of School Bullying Laws”: cga.ct.gov/2011/ACT/PA/2011PA-00232-R00SB-01138-PA.htm

[6] Connecticut General Statutes §§ 10-222d, 10-222g, and 10-222h.

“Do Not Let Your Self-Worth Be Defined By Bullies”

“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.

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.”[1] 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.[2] 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.[3]

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. (See, for example, my two previous posts from today, here and here.) 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.”[4] Tyler’s roommate, Dharun Ravi, was convicted earlier this year of crimes related to the spying incidents,[5] though the seemingly lenient sentence has been widely called into question.[6]

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.[7]

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.

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.


[1]“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

[2] 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

[3] 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

[4] “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

[5] “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

[6] 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/

[7] “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

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.

Bullying In Schools: Are We Doing Enough to Protect Children?

Bullying In Schools: Are We Doing Enough to Protect Children?

On September 22, 2010, Seth Walsh should have been skateboarding or playing baseball, listening to his new favorite song, perhaps, or talking on the phone with friends.  He should have been happy and care free.  After all, Seth was only thirteen years old, an age when children should be laughing and dreaming of the endless opportunities that lie ahead.  Instead, Seth Walsh was lying beneath a tree in his backyard unconscious, no longer breathing.  He had just hung himself.  After spending the next week on life support, with his mother looking on, Seth ultimately died.

And just days earlier on the other side of the country, Tyler Climenti, an eighteen year old student at Rutgers posted what would be his last Facebook message, “Jumping off the gw bridge sorry.” Later that night Tyler took his own life as well- throwing himself into the dark and frigid water of the Hudson River.

In September, 2010, within nineteen days, four teenagers from around the country committed suicide.  William Lucas, from Greensburg Indiana was only fifteen, Asher Brown from Houston Texas was thirteen.  Like Seth, Billy hung himself.  Asher shot himself in the head with one of his step-father’s guns.  The common link?  All four had been relentlessly tormented at school.  Shining new light on what has become a national epidemic, these cases illuminate the devastating and increasingly deadly effects of bullying.  There is some debate over whether bullying is a new phenomenon or whether children are simply reacting differently.  Whatever the case may be, one thing is clear- we must take action to protect the destruction of more innocent lives.

The Department of Education recently entered the fray, releasing a “Dear Colleague” letter in which it urged school districts to address bullying within the classroom, providing school administrators with guidance on how to end harassment.  Additionally, within the last couple of years, many states, including New York and Connecticut, have passed anti-bulling legislation.  At what point should a school district be held liable when it fails to prevent bullying?  The answer to that question is not clear-cut.  Indeed, parents face several legal challenges when they pursue a case.

For instance, in 2008, the Superior Court at New Britain held that parents of a Berlin High School student could not maintain a negligence cause of action against the school district, the administrators or the child’s coach.  In Dornfried v. Berlin Board of Education, et al, Robby Dornfried’s parents alleged that while a freshman and sophomore at the high school, and a place-kicker on the varsity football team, their son was subjected to “incessant bullying, harassment, intimidation and was the victim of threats and/or acts of violence” by his teammates.  They further alleged that school administrators, the guidance counselor, even Robby’s coach, knew of the problem, but did nothing to stop the behavior.  Robby eventually sought medical treatment and ultimately transferred to Northwest Catholic High School halfway though his sophomore year.

Analyzing whether the principal of governmental immunity barred suit, the Court recited the general rule that a municipal employee may be liable for the misperformance of ministerial acts, but has qualified immunity in the performance of governmental acts- those performed wholly for the benefit of the public and supervisory or discretionary in nature.  Agreeing with the defendants, the Court found that the supervision of school children, not only during school hours, but at extra-curricular events such as football practice or a football game is a discretionary matter.  It next addressed whether it was appropriate to apply any of the exceptions to the immunity doctrine.  Generally, there are three:

  1. Liability may be imposed for a discretionary act when the alleged conduct involved malice, wantonness or intent to injure.
  2. Liability may be imposed for a discretionary act when a statute provides for a cause of action against a municipality or municipal official for failure to enforce certain laws.
  3. Liability may be imposed when the circumstances make it apparent to the public officer that his or her failure to act would be likely to subject an identifiable person to imminent harm.

Ignoring the first two exceptions, the Court addressed whether Robby was an “identifiable person subject to imminent harm” under the law.  Citing Supreme Court precedent, Judge Trombley, found he was not, explaining the only identifiable class of foreseeable victims the courts have recognized is that of school children attending public schools during school hours.  The Court ultimately held that although participation in school sponsored athletic programs is most likely encouraged, the participation is on a purely voluntary basis and, therefore, governmental immunity barred Robby’s negligence claims.

Earlier this year the Superior Court at New Haven reached a different conclusion in a bullying case.  In Esposito v. Town of Bethany, et al, the father of an elementary school student brought suit against the Town of Bethany, the Board of Education and the Bethany Public School District alleging negligence.  The student, Christina, was allegedly teased on a regular basis and at one point another student threw a ball at the back of her head during recess.  Christina sustained severe injuries “leaving her with an acquired brain injury and severe optical dysfunction.”

In response to Connecticut’s anti-bulling legislation, which became effective July, 2002, the Town of Bethany adopted a comprehensive anti-bullying policy.  The Plaintiff’s pointed to that policy arguing that the school failed to follow it and, thus, their acts were ministerial rather than discretionary in nature.  The Court framed the issue as whether, “…a detailed method of behavior was laid down for administrators and teachers for dealing with bullying depriving them of any judgment or discretion, or that, actions were dictated to deal with the problem that involved merely the execution of an established policy.”  Leaving this question unanswered, the Court ultimately erred on the side of caution, allowing the plaintiff an opportunity to present the facts at trial.

Later in its decision the Court addressed whether the “identifiable person subject to imminent harm” exception would apply if the school’s actions were in fact discretionary.  In doing so, the Court hinted at expanding its view of the doctrine in the context of school bullying.  The Court interpreted prior case law as suggesting that the only identifiable class of foreseeable victims is that of school children attending school during school hours, but went on to suggest, “[b]ut if a clearly identifiable person, child or adult, is exposed to imminent harm then the exception could apply also if that individual is exposed to imminent harm,” continuing, “an individual may be identifiable for purposes of the exception to qualified immunity if the harm occurs within a limited temporal and geographical zone, involving a temporary condition.”

In ruling in Christina’s favor, the court also noted that the appellate courts have relaxed the “identifiable person” portion of the analysis as it pertains to school children stating simply, “they are a foreseeable class to be protected.”  The Court concluded it must assume a similarly protective attitude will be applied in examining the “imminent harm” requirement stating, “bullying is condemned by state statute, children must attend schools, children are not as capable of defending themselves, they are vulnerable in the entire school area where unsupervised conduct prevails, and the bullying concept includes… a particular child subject to these acts.”

Whether a victim of bullying will be successful in bringing a claim against a school district will depend heavily on the facts and circumstances of the case as well as the theory of liability, the state in which the claims are made and the causes of action asserted.   As set forth above, in Connecticut governmental immunity may preclude recovery altogether unless the victim can demonstrate the application of an exception is appropriate.

By: Michael D. DeMeola

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