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Op-ed: What to Do If Your Child Is Bullied at School

Op-ed: What to Do If Your Child Is Bullied at School

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Just in time for back to school, this attorney, parent, and advocate wants to arm you and your loved ones with a legal guide to fighting for your children's right to be safe at school.

As summer winds down, kids across the country are getting ready to head back to school. Some are eager to return so they can see friends again. Others are reluctant just because they don't want the summer to end. And some dread going back to school because it means going back to being bullied.

Bullying strikes fear in the hearts of most parents, and I am no exception. As the parent of a middle school-age girl, I expect my daughter to experience bullying as a target or an observer, whether at school or on social media. So I do my best to prepare her. And this includes preparing myself, so I can help her through whatever may arise.

But how do we as parents prepare ourselves to address school bullying? This is where the lawyer part of me starts talking to my parental consciousness. I am always more afraid of what I don't know than what I do know, so my lawyer consciousness tells me that I need to know my (and my daughter's) rights under the law.

Over the last several years, I have amassed knowledge about bullying and the law as part of my job at Public Justice. I launched an antibullying campaign designed to hold school districts and officials accountable for failing to protect students from bullying, make systemic changes in the ways that schools respond to incidents, and educate others about bullying and law.

While I have successfully represented victims and their families in lawsuits against their school districts, it is nonetheless clear to me that litigation is a tool of last resort. If parents knew more about their and their children's legal rights and were able to work alongside school employees to resolve bullying issues, that would be a far better solution for families and schools alike.

As a parent who happens to be a lawyer with expertise on school bullying issues, I want to "pay it forward" to other parents. So I put together a free online resource for parents to help them address school harassment, titled Bullying and the Law: A Guide for Parents. The guide is being launched in partnership with The Bully Project from award-winning filmmaker Lee Hirsch.

The guide is intended to help parents understand what the law requires schools to do to address bullying, what they can reasonably expect from school officials when their child is a target, and what options are available when schools fail to take appropriate action.

If you believe your child is being bullied by a school peer, here are three important things to know:

  1. Report the bullying to a school employee with authority to take corrective action. Telling a teacher may not be enough.
  2. If a school attempts to remedy the bullying by having your child change his or her class schedule, say "no." The burden of changing schedules should fall on the aggressor, not the victim.
  3. Make sure the school informs you of the process to follow in case there are subsequent bullying incidents.

Just as I have seen school officials turn a blind eye to bullying, I have seen parents make unreasonable demands on schools about the action they should take to stop it. My hope is that Bullying and the Law will arm parents with the information they need to advocate effectively for their children and work cooperatively with their schools.

The free guide is available here.

Back to school should not mean back to hell. If it does, then know your rights. And use your knowledge to work with your child's school to stop the bullying.

Adele-kimmelADELE KIMMEL is a senior attorney at Public Justice and heads its antibullying campaign. She received her BA with high honors from the University of Virginia, her JD.from the University of Virginia School of Law, and an MA in philosophy, also from the University of Virginia.

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