Children are not merely our most valuable resource. Let’s face it: If you have a child or if you love one, he or she is your beating heart worn on your sleeve. What they suffer, you suffer tenfold. You want to protect them from every hurt and harm, but know that you can’t. You know that the world is harsh, and while you want to preserve their innocence, you want to prepare them to live the best life they can. These are the time-honored responsibilities of a parent or guardian.
We’re all blessed to be citizens of a great state in a great country, enjoying a high standard of living in a safe, intellectually and culturally stimulating environment. But sometimes things go wrong.
When children are bullied or victimized in school, they’re more vulnerable than an adult bullied or victimized in the workplace (though workplace bullying can certainly have devastating effects). Children are far less able to defend themselves physically, socially, intellectually and emotionally. While school boards and most educational professionals make an effort to balance the rights of the victim and the accused bully, sometimes they play favorites. Sometimes they don’t want to be bothered. Sometimes they know that the victim is going to be leaving the school soon and they opt for a “low-energy” approach to resolving a problem that may have devastating long-term effects for the victim after he or she leaves the school.
Regrettably, despite the passage of New Jersey’s anti-bullying law, big holes remain in terms of holding school boards and educational professionals accountable for school bullying.
Even more difficult and complicated is “cyberbullying,” in which young people use new technologies, often off school grounds, to harass, humiliate and belittle kids on a mass scale and without any face-to-face accountability. In fact, cyberbullying is becoming the method of choice over the physical attacks and intimidation that the culture once understood as the only type of bullying that took place in schools.
When your child is bullied in school, the school has several obligations. It has obligations under New Jersey tort law, including the New Jersey Tort Claims Act. It also has obligations under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination in cases where the bullying is based on sex, sexual orientation, perceived sexual orientation, disability, perceived disability, race, ethnicity, religion or creed. Even when kids know that their victim isn’t gay, for example, bullies understand that attributing a particular sexual orientation to a kid in a negative way is going to humiliate and embarrass that kid, even if the bully isn’t himself or herself homophobic. Likewise, attributing sexual promiscuity to young women and even young men that isn’t deserved is a form of sexual harassment.
The school and civil rights attorneys at Costello, Mains & Silverman, LLC, are at the forefront of litigating bullying and bias-based bullying in schools. We are committed to holding school professionals, educators and school boards accountable for their failures to follow the New Jersey Anti-Bullying Law and to correctly prevent, investigate and respond to school bullying, cyberbullying and bias-based or discriminatory bullying.
We know how to use the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination in combination with other state laws to get the maximum recovery for your child and to give your child and your family the best means to cope with the effects of bullying.
More importantly, we know how to make sure that the school board doesn’t make the same mistake ever again.