Last Updated on July 18, 2023 by Michelle Ball
By Michelle Ball, Sacramento California Expulsion, Special Education, sports/CIF, College, Education and School Attorney/Lawyer for Students since 1995
Some of the saddest stories in schools involve students who are victims of bullying. Yet, sometimes the bullying itself is not the only “punishment” a bullied student receives. How can school bullying be made worse? By punishing the bullied student for their response via suspension or expulsion, while the bully stays enrolled in school, roaming free.
How can this be happen? Unfortunately, it happens more often than not in California schools.
Bullying Must Be Handled by Schools, Right?
Schools are legally obligated to take action when a staff member observes student bullying or receives a report of student bullying.
So, it is logical to assume that a school will act on reports of student targeting, harassment and bullying. But will they?
The negative outcomes to students from bullying are well known and undeniable. In fact, over the last decade or so, the word “bullying” has become a buzz word in education. All one has to do to get broad agreement that “something has to be done” is to mention that a student was bullied in school.
However, this support may be limited to social media, as in our schools, bullied students are not always protected. Magic does not always happen and in fact, many reports of student bullying go unaddressed.
What If Bullying Isn’t Handled When Reported?
If a student or parents report bullying, or a teacher or school staff member observes bullying, and it remains unaddressed, a negative, dangerous situation will persist for the bullied student.
While the school pretends no harassment or targeting is occurring, the student and family may go into a sort of apathy. They may feel like there is nothing they can do and that they have to endure the bullying, as the “authorities” say it is not happening. Meanwhile, the student must continue attending daily (it’s the law). Everyday will turn to hell for the bullied student.
The student can feel lost, alone, and depressed, as nothing that has been done by their parents, and reported to the school, is working. In that situation, the student may decide to take the matter into their own hands.
Bullied Students May React to Bullies
Unfortunately, when a bullied student reacts to a bully, by pushing the bully back, hitting the bully, or even bringing a weapon, they may be punished. The student’s history of being bullied may be ignored. Instead, schools may focus only on the bullied student’s reaction, which can support suspension or expulsion.
Is this fair? No, but schools often don’t care about what is “fair.” They have selective memory, and selective enforcement of discipline rules. If they did not, the bully would long ago have been removed from school and the bullied student would be free.
Too often, I see bullied students in this situation. The school staff have been told about the bullying but do nothing. Meanwhile, no one seems to care that the student is being pummeled in the bathroom, called “gay” or degraded for their race, and are unable to focus in school. The student may feel no one cares. The student would not be wrong.
Unfortunately, the student then “takes action” themselves and it can get them into hot water.
Sometimes they bring a weapon. Sometimes they beat up the bully. Sometimes they self-harm, and often they end up punished.
What Can Parents Do?
Once reported, the school must address the bullying, period. But, if the school does not, parents can look to the school district, outside government agencies, or legal help. The student also has the option of a priority transfer, (which is not always the best option, but IS an option).
The bottom line is that the bullied student is the one who is suffering and being harmed. Parents need to take action to ensure the student is helped and protected. A student’s life is far too important to ignore the terrible results which can occur when bullying is ignored.
Parents should not stop until they get the bullying matter addressed.
Don’t wait until the student victim has to resort to their own plans of resolution, which often means rule-breaking and punishment. Suspension or expulsion may haunt the student for years to come, including when applying to college. It is far better just to get the bullying addressed so the student can continue on, happy in life.
Student bullying prevention lawyer Michelle Ball helps students when they are targeted at school or if parent reports are ignored. As an education attorney located in Sacramento, she can assist in all California locations, including Auburn, Woodland, Modesto, Oakland, Napa, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara and many other places.
Originally published January 12, 2016