Last Updated on November 8, 2022 by Michelle Ball
By Michelle Ball, Sacramento California Expulsion, Special Education, sports/CIF, College, Education and School Attorney/Lawyer for Students since 1995
Bullying. This is a bad word. Bullying of a student is not allowed in schools. But what if the bully is a teacher or school staff member? What can a parent do?
What is Bullying?
In a nutshell, bullying is targeting, harassing, or intimidating a student based on their ethnicity, race, disability, sexual orientation, national origin, gender, or other legally protected class. Bullying may also be described as repeated harmful actions against a student based on a power imbalance.
This abuse may also fall under the category of harassment and may move over into assault, battery and sexual crimes.
California law, (Education Code sections 234-234.5) obligates schools to have policies and processes to deal with bullying and harassment.
A broader description of bullying is in California discipline laws, such as Section 48900(r). Essentially this law explains that bullying is any “severe or pervasive physical or verbal act or conduct” which causes a student to be in fear of harm or to experience “substantial interference” with their mental or physical health or ability to participate in their education.
Bullying cannot happen by accident.
Signs Bullying May Be Happening at School
Parents need to watch for bullying impacts to their kids. If a favorite teacher targets a student, this may not be something a parent looks for or expects. However, student complaints should not be ignored.
But what should a parent look for to see if a student is being wrongly bullied in school?
Some signs a student is being bullied may include:
- Students who loved school before now not wanting to go
- Drops in grades
- New physical ills being complained about such as stomachaches, frequent illnesses to avoid school
- Negative changes in student grades for no reason
- Student coming home sad and gloomy, losing their spark and enthusiasm
- Refusal to eat
- Complaints a teacher or school staff member is being mean or hates the student
- Stories about things the teacher or school staff are doing to the student, which may actually be factual
Don’t Just Dismiss Student Complaints of Targeting
Many parents don’t take student complaints seriously about a teacher or staff member. There is no way nice Ms. Jennie would do that! They doubt their child, trusting the adult more.
However, when it turns out reported issues were true, parents may be racked with guilt later. There is nothing worse than too late finding the abuse was true. Instead, maybe the parent told the student to just “toughen up” or deal with the teacher themselves. This may be okay if the student is old enough to do so or the situation is not severe, but not in all cases.
Unfortunately, dismissing a student may result in the student stopping their communications to the parent about the bullying. Things may then get worse or the student may feel they have no one to turn to.
A student told to just “handle it” or that they are exaggerating may even doubt their own perceptions. The student may become isolated or develop “solutions” to the bullying that may be bad for their future. This is not a good place for a student to be.
Examples of Teacher Bullying of a Student
In society, bullying stories usually focus on an evil student bullying other students, but this is not always what occurs. Sadly, not just students bully their classmates. School staff and teachers may also bully and harm students.
Some examples of teacher or staff bullying may be:
- Isolating a student in the classroom away from others as the student is a “problem”
- Excluding a student from class activities they should be able to participate in
- “Losing” the student’s assignments and tests so they get zeros
- Assigning a lot of extra work for a student that others do not also get
- Making the student jump through hoops to join activities that others do not have to, which are not part of the regular class policy
- Failing to allow a disabled student attend a class trip or event because of their disability
- Segregation of students from others- e.g. boys in back, girls in front
- Treating a student/students differently from the rest of the class for no valid reason
- Stating degrading statements to the student, such as that they are “dumb” will be “sent back to their last grade,” that their “race is inferior,” or similar statements
- Gossiping viciously about a student to others
- Applying special “rules” to a student or group of students
- Sending or pulling in certain students to the office frequently for small actions, for which other students are not punished
- Following only certain students around and writing down all their actions for the purpose of punishment
- Searches of a certain student’s belongings frequently, without “reasonable suspicion” of contraband
- Overpunishing a student with no basis
- Making a fool of certain students purposefully; humiliation
And on and on…. The difference between “bullying” and not bullying may be the purpose and intent of the actions, whether the actions apply uniformly to all, whether the actions are legal, and what the impact is to the bullied student. Bullying is not black and white, but somewhat grey, so everything will depend on the facts in a particular school situation.
Steps Parents Can Take To Stop Bullying by a Teacher or School Staff
Parents need to take action if they discover school staff or a teacher are bullying a student. Often it is the parent of the student who reports bullying, but not always.
I have seen situations where other parents (not the parents of the bullied student) who observed the school bullying reported it, as they did not know how to reach the bullied student’s parents. Did the school report the abuse allegations to the bullied student’s parents in that case? No.
Here are some ideas on what parents can do
- Stay in communication with students in your family.
- Know what is going on at school and any trouble the student is experiencing.
- Listen to your kids– not all of them are lying, many students are being truthful when they say their teacher is mean. But is it TOO mean? Finding out may be wise.
- Visit the student’s classroom to see what is going on.
- Politely talk to the teacher or staff member who is doing the alleged harm to find out what they say.
- Watch for retaliation, and make sure it does not occur.
- Parents may want to discretely ask other parents to find out if they saw anything happening in teh classroom, or to the student, but extreme caution should be used to ensure nothing negative about the teacher or staff member is spread.
- Report the student bullying and harassment via the school’s bullying complaint process, which schools legally must have in place. [Any student bullying allegations should be factual]
- Before filing, parents may also want to consider an Office for Civil Rights (OCR) complaint if discrimination is being alleged (an OCR complaint may be prohibited if a school complaint is filed first)
- Pursue all the bullying steps in the school or school district policy
- File a personnel complaint on the person who bullied.
- Keep the student safe regardless
Student Safety is Paramount
The first rule above all is to protect the bullied student and ensure their safety. This is a priority, even if actions have not been taken in school.
If parents really cannot get anywhere, they can always bring in legal help. It is not uncommon for schools to ignore parents or to not do anything effective to handle a bullying situation.
Lawyer for students Michelle Ball assists in remedying bullying of students by teachers, school staff, or other students. Being an attorney for parents and students located in Sacramento, California, Michelle helps across the state, in places such as Richmond, Roseville, San Francisco, Paradise, Oroville, Foresthill, Meadow Vista, Auburn, Laguna and many other locations.