Bullying in Schools

Fall has officially arrived, and students are settling into a new school year. Hopefully any nerves regarding the uncertainty of a new routine, new classmates, and what may seem to be an endless amount of homework are far outweighed by the excitement of the new adventures ahead.

Unfortunately, this is not the case for all students. Indeed, some students enter the school year with significant fears of bullying and other discriminatory behavior, which can cause substantial disruption to their education and beyond. In fact, in 2017, about 20 percent of students ages 12-18 acknowledged being bullied at school during the school year. [1]  Bullying should not be construed as kids simply “being kids.” Bullying is a serious issue that can have life lasting effects and must be addressed swiftly and effectively.

Bullying can happen in many different ways. According to Stopbullying.gov, a website managed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, types of bullying may include:

  • verbal;
  • social;
  • physical; and
  • cyberbullying [2]

Students may be bullied by their peers or, in some circumstances, school staff and administration. Further, school bullying is not limited to conduct that happens within the school building. Bullying may also happen in places like the playground, the bus, or on social media, for example.

Moreover, in 2017 about 42% percent of students who reported being bullied at school said that the bullying was related to at least one of the following characteristics:

  • physical appearance;
  • race;
  • gender;
  • disability;
  • ethnicity;
  • religion;
  • sexual orientation.[3]

While there is no federal law that specifically prohibits bullying, there are other federal and state laws that may offer protection when the bullying is based on a protected characteristic. By way of example, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin in programs and activities that receive federal financial assistance—which includes many school systems.[4] Likewise, Title IX prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any education program or activity that receives federal financial assistance.[5] Additionally, some states have anti-bullying laws.[6]

School administration and staff can play a critical role in preventing and stopping bullying.[7] In fact, in a resource provided by Stopbullying.gov, about 70% of school staff admitted to witnessing bullying and 41% witnessed bullying once a week or more.[8]

At Nichols Kaster, PLLP, we believe every student deserves equal access to education no matter the student’s protected status. Students deserve to have their complaints taken seriously if they aren’t being treated fairly by students or school staff. In fact, Nichols Kaster, PLLP currently represents multiple students in two separate discrimination lawsuits in Minnesota: K.R. et al. v. Duluth Public Schools Academy Court File No. 0:19-cv-00999 (District of Minnesota) and T.B. et al. v. Independent School District 112 Court File No. 0:19-cv-02414 (District of Minnesota).

If you believe you or someone you love has been denied their right to a full and fair education and is being discriminated at school, please contact our Civil Rights and Impact Litigation group.

[1] National Center for Education Statistics, Fast Facts Bullying, available at https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=719, (last accessed on September 25, 2019).

[2] Stopbullying.gov, Facts About Bullying, available at https://www.stopbullying.gov/media/facts/index.html, (last accessed on September 24, 2019).

[3] National Center for Education Statistics, Indicator 10: Bullying at School and Electronic Bullying, available at https://nces.ed.gov/programs/crimeindicators/ind_10.asp, (last accessed on September 25, 2019).

[4] 42 U.S.C. § 2000d.

[5] 42 U.S.C. § 1681.

[6] Stopbullying.gov, Laws, Policies, and Regulations, available https://www.stopbullying.gov/index.html, (last accessed on September 25, 2019).

[7] See Adele Kimmel, Litigating Bullying Cases: Holding School Districts and Officials Accountable (Fall 2017 edition), available at https://www.publicjustice.net/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/Bullying-Litigation-Primer-Fall-2017-Update-FINAL.pdf, (last accessed on September 25, 2019).

[8] Stopsbullying.gov, Facts about Bullying, available at https://www.stopbullying.gov/media/facts/index.html, (last accessed at September 25, 2019).