When School Systems Turn a Blind Eye to Bullying
You are introducing an important subject that you’d like to discuss with an authority figure. She claps her hands over her ears and blabbers “Blah, blah, blah…” until you give up and stop talking. She is telling you: “Don’t bother, I’m not listening.”
That was pretty much the position taken by school administrators in the case of T.K. v. New York City Department of Education. 799 F. Supp. 2nd. 289. (2011) T.K., a special needs student, alleged that sustained bullying, tolerated by the school, made it impossible for her to obtain an education. She (her parents) sought reimbursement for private schooling.
From the record:
During the 2007-2008 school year, T.K.’s parents brought her to the school principal’s office to discuss bullying in the school. After showing them into her office, the principal asked T.K.’s parents to have the conversation outside of T.K.’s presence. When T.K.’s parents continued to try to discuss the matter, the principal asked them to leave. As the parent’s continued to try to discuss their daughter’s problem the principal opened the door to her office and said she would call security if they did not leave. No subsequent meeting about bullying with school personnel took place.
The principal does not recall what she did to investigate any claims of bullying. (“Question: What, if anything, did you do to investigate [claims of bullying] internally? Answer: I can’t recall.”)
When T.K.’s parents tried raising the issue of bullying during a meeting to set the educational plan at issue they were rebuffed. The school principal did not permit this discussion because she said she thought it was not appropriate for a CSE (Committee of Special Education) meeting.
Teachers Maintain a “Plausible Deniability”
It gets worse. The teachers involved circled the wagons. They couldn’t recall incidents of bullying. When pressed for documentation regarding reports of bullying, the administration produced two lame reports blaming the child for creating disturbances.
Well, this time the cavalry got there in time. Two part-time (non-union) teacher’s aides, working alternate days, came forward and told a chilling tale of institutionally-tolerated bullying of a defenseless, frightened child who was learning very little because she was trying desperately to survive.
Let’s cut to the chase. If school administrators document and acknowledge complaints of bullying – guess what – they may become “responsible” under certain statutes and/or common law theories. That means they and/or their school could become defendants if something goes wrong. So they maintain a “plausible deniability” by covering their ears and blabbering.
More Heartbreaking Stories of Bullying
In a radio interview with Bill Townsend, we discussed the anti-litigation posture often taken by schools. The topic that day was the case of Jake Gamble, a great kid who was brutally attacked and injured by a notorious school bully. Jake and his family became further victimized by the school administration and were forced to bear the expense of private schooling to escape an impossible situation.
Update: there was another tragic story that hit the wires at the start of April 2013, one with similar facts to the Jake Gamble story: Iowa Boy Says School Attack Left Him Disabled.
Schools’ Legal Responsibilities
Traditionally, schools have argued that they were not “in custody” of children under their supervision, and were therefore not responsible for any problems occurring under their watch. That and other “immunity” defenses have kept them pretty much protected from “legal responsibility.”
In his decision, Senior U. S. District Court Judge Jack B. Weinstein slapped those defenses aside. He made it clear that school administrators will be expected to comply with existing statutes. Their responsibilities are now more clearly defined. Everyone was reminded that there are truancy laws requiring children to show up and follow orders. In a word, Judge Weinstein shook things up. There is a new sheriff in Gotham schools.
We will publish at least two additional blog posts on this very important Federal Court Decision. It goes to the heart of ensuring that every child will get a fair chance to develop his or her potential in a safe environment. Isn’t that what we thought we were paying for with our taxes?
Bullying Decoded is a heart-to-heart discussion on bullying and what can be done about it. Get the book and join author Ed Kaspar in a conversation on the legal and psychological issues behind bullying.
Buy the Book
Legal Issues of Bullying
- Bullying is Incompatible with American Character
- Court Defines Bullying
- When School Systems Turn a Blind Eye to Bullying
- Seeking Damages Part 2 of 2: Four Elements to Claim IIED
- Seeking Damages Part 1 of 2: Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress
Psychology of Bullying
- Bullying Psychology – 3 Ego States, Parent-Adult-Child (PAC)
- Interview with a Former Bully, Experiments with Power
- Don’t Gaslight Yourself
- Transactional Analysis Defined
- Encouraging a Bully in the Family