Last Updated on October 1, 2021 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. 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, intimidating a student based on their ethnicity, race, ,disability, sexual orientation, national origin, gender, or other legally protected class.
Bullying comes up a few places in the California Education Codes, including sections 234-234.5 which obligate schools to have policies and processes to deal with bullying and harassment.
Bullying for purposes of California schools is more fully covered in a discipline code: Section 48900(r). The complete definition is quite long, but essentially the code lays out that bullying arises from ” 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 in their child?
Some signs of a student being bullied may include:
- Students who loved school before now not wanting to go
- Drops in grades
- New physical manifestations 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 may dismiss complaints from students about a teacher or staff member.
However, I have heard from too many parents racked with guilt later, after the abuse was true, that they did not believe their child. Or, 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, these types of parent dismissals may also result in the student stopping their communications to the parent about the bullying.
A student told to just “handle it” may also believe they cannot turn to the parent for help, or that they are misperceiving things. They 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
The public focus is usually around 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 for an improper reason
- 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 on the student being bullied. 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 staff or teacher bullying of a student is occuring. Often it is the parent of the student being bullied who reports it, 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 your kids and always know what is going on at school and any trouble which the student is experiencing.
- Listen to your kids– not all of them are lying, many 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 ask other parents to find out if they saw anything happening 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 they legally must have in place. [Any student bullying allegations should be factual]
- Before filing in #7, 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)
- If not satisfied at #7, 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 of where the complaint process may be
Student Safety is Paramount
The first rule above all is to protect the bullied student and ensure their safety. This comes as a priority, even if actions have not been taken above.
If parents really cannot get anywhere, they can always bring in legal help. It is not infrequent for schools to ignore parents or to not do anything effective to handle a bullying situation.
Student lawyer Michelle Ball assists in remedying bullying of students by teachers, school staff, or other students. Being located in Sacramento, California, parent attorney Michelle helps across the state, in places such as Richmond, Roseville, San Francisco, Paradise, Oroville, Foresthill, Meadow Vista, Auburn, Laguna and many other locations.
Education Attorney for Students
LAW OFFICE OF MICHELLE BALL
717 K Street, Suite 228
Sacramento, CA 95814
Please see my disclaimer. This is legal information, not legal advice and no attorney-client relationship is formed by this posting. This blog may not be reproduced without permission from the author and proper attribution of authorship. This blog may not reflect the current state of the law.