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It’s a phone call that most parents can’t imagine receiving. Your school’s principal has requested a meeting because your child is being suspended or expelled … for bullying.
While some parents might look at bullying as a part of growing up, in fact it actually has reached epidemic proportions across the country. More than 3.2 million students are victims of bullying each year, according to DoSomething.org, a social issues advocacy group. Every day, nearly 160,000 children miss school because they are scared of being bullied, notes the National Education Association. What’s more, many incidents of bullying go unreported because kids are afraid to report them.
Bullying can range from physical and/or verbal abuse to online or electronic harassment.
Forty-nine states now have anti-bullying laws on the books. And according to FindLaw.com, the nation’s leading website for free legal information, students accused of bullying are at risk now more than ever of being suspended or expelled, and may even face civil fines and criminal penalties.
So what should you do if your child is accused of bullying? Here are some tips from FindLaw.com:
* Know your school’s policies about bullying. Many schools are required by law to publicly state their policies and procedures related to bullying. Some also require students and parents to sign forms acknowledging awareness of the policies. Familiarize yourself with the rules and discuss them with your children. Similarly, if your child is accused of bullying, you should make sure you understand your state’s laws.
* Cooperate with school officials. Don’t be quick to judge or shift blame for your child, the victim or the school. Work with your school’s officials to understand exactly what happened and your child’s role. Cooperate to the extent that you feel appropriate to resolve the issue to avoid the involvement of law enforcement.
* Be prepared: You may not get the full story. Your child and/or other children involved may give you a skewed version of what happened. Even school officials, anxious about potential litigation, may offer a different account of the incident, or be reluctant to become involved in an incident that may have primarily occurred off campus, after school hours.
* Police may become involved. Based on the severity of the incident and the number of students involved, local law enforcement may become involved. You should fully cooperate with police and seek the assistance of an attorney specializing in family law if your child is at the center of the incident.
* The media may become involved. In a growing number of cases, local and national news media are reporting on bullying incidents as awareness and sensitivity to the problem grows. The victim’s parents may grow impatient with their school and law enforcement officials and take their case to the media. While many media organizations have policies against naming minors in a story, the names of both cyberbullies and their victims have become public, and then reported by the media, when other students reveal those names on social media, or when hacktivist groups become involved. In addition, social media websites and search engines are being targeted through the legal system by the parents of victims to reveal the names of cyberbullies who hide behind anonymous names.
* Find the source for your child’s acting out. Is your child angry about a home situation such as a pending divorce or a parent who needs to work two or more jobs to make ends meet? Is he or she struggling with schoolwork? An underlying problem may call for counseling for your child. Also, carefully examine your relationship with your child – are you modeling good interpersonal behaviors?
* Understand that you may need an attorney. Immediately seek legal counsel if the victim’s parents announce their decision to file a lawsuit against the school and/or the alleged bully.
To learn more about bullying and the law, visit FindLaw.com.