Last Updated on April 21, 2021 by Michelle Ball
By Michelle Ball, California Education Attorney for Students since 1995
Do you remember the school bully? Or, maybe you have seen movie depictions such as the red haired youth with his raccoon fur hat who terrorizes the main character, Ralphie, in A Christmas Story. Bullying can occur anywhere in schools: in the classroom, in the bathroom, in the office, behind a building, on a student field trip, on the way to or from school — wherever students interact.
Bullying conduct, or actions that someone says are bullying, may result in a student being suspended or expelled.
Definition of Student Bullying
Per California Education Code section 48900(r), students who bully can be disciplined, suspended, or even expelled.
School bullying is defined generally as:
[A]ny severe or pervasive physical or verbal act or conduct, including communications made in writing or by means of an electronic act …that has or can be reasonably predicted to have the effect of one ore more of the following [on a “reasonable pupil”]:
1) Places the student in fear of harm (for themselves or their property).
2) Has a “substantially detrimental effect” to the student’s physical or mental health.
3) Causes substantial interference with the student’s academic performance.
4) Causes substantial interference with the student participating in or benefiting from “the services, activities, or privileges provided by a school. [information summarized not quoted]
School “Bullying” is Vague
When implemented, the California legislature did attempt to limit student bullying to usually require “substantial” interference.” What does that mean?
They did not provide a definition as far as what amounts to “substantial interference,” with a student or their education, nor explain what a “substantially detrimental effect” to a reasonable student from bullying might be.
This overbroadness means that practically anything can come under the “bullying” heading if skewed the correct way.
How many students put others “in fear of harm” on a daily basis at school? Many, but they should not be automatically lumped in as bullies.
School Standards to Punish Students for Bullying are Low
Unfortunately, when disciplining students, schools require a very low level of proof that student bullying has occurred. He who speaks first is believed. And it does not help matters that expulsion hearings are usually in front of a panel of hand-picked school district employees who will hear and decide on the student bullying allegation.
Reviewing Bullying Examples with Students is Important
The many ways bullying can occur in school is a good topic to go over with students, so they can avoid a suspension or expulsion.
For example, a student could tease another child about their name, saying they have a “girl’s name.” Over time, this could lead to an allegation of bullying, even if it is just for fun with a close friend.
Another student could joke with a girl about her sexual attitudes or say she is “gay” or a “lesbian.” This can cause the girl’s grades to go down or her to avoid certain classes. It could also lead to a traumatic bullying allegation, and even suspension or expulsion for bullying.
A student could tell inappropriate jokes about a certain race or religion and could offend someone in the school. This too could lead to a student bullying allegation and harsh school discipline, depending on the seriousness of the conduct.
Don’t Fear a Bullying Allegation, Fight It
If you find your child being punished for “bullying,” don’t fear. With a thorough review of the legal codes and convincing evidence, you just may show no bullying actually occurred.
Properly counteracting a bullying allegation means the student won’t have the disgusting allegation stay with them through college and beyond. Having a bullying suspension or expulsion in a student’s records can be disastrous to an application.
Take action to counteract bullying allegations and you can help your child!
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.