School Bullying: How Long Is the Arm of the Law?

Release Date: 
September 16, 2012
Reviewed by: 

“School Bullying gives the legal profession the 411 on a hot topic . . .”

Bullying and its negative consequences are well understood by every segment of our society.

Parents of bullied children are taking school districts to court and winning large settlements over mishandling of bullying incidents involving their child or negligence in not implementing antibullying laws compliance with which is now mandatory in 49 states.

Although many state laws are similar, there are enough differences and the issue is serious enough for the American Bar Association to publish School Bullying: How Long Is the Arm of the Law?

The title asks a very good question. Just how far do bullying laws go in protecting school children?

Far enough that school administrators are well advised to invest in a copy of this manual. From Massachusetts to Georgia to California, parents are suing school districts and winning multimillion dollar settlements for a school’s failure to prevent the incidents that targeted their child and led them to suicide or caused permanent physical injury.

Bullying may be an old problem but litigating it is a relatively recent trend. Enmeshed in the issue is the First Amendment right to free speech. Is calling a person a name necessarily a punishable offense? In the case of suspension of a bully, there are issues of due process. Are the antibullying rules explicit enough, i.e., are the behaviors that constitute bullying spelled out so that students know the consequences in advance? Are they given fair warning? Are the school policies adequate enough to protect gay and non-gender conforming students?

The author, James C. Hanks, an attorney specializing in education law, raises these issues and more in well organized short chapters dealing with legal precedents—if any exist. Mr. Hanks gives a concise overview of antibullying policies in various states and summarizes a number of cases settled or pending, brought forward as a consequence of the antibullying movement.

School Bullying gives the legal profession the 411 on a hot topic and alerts professionals to some of the pitfalls of noncompliance. The book should also be on the desktops of educators and parents—especially if they have a gender-nonconforming child and are concerned that their child’s school’s antibullying policies do not specifically mention protection for LGBT youth.