HOW MUST SCHOOLS ADDRESS BULLYING UNDER FEDERAL LAW?
Bullying is a serious issue in schools in Alabama and nationwide. However, it may surprise you to hear that no federal law directly prohibits the act of bullying. However, sometimes bullying also falls under the umbrella of unlawful discriminatory harassment against someone in a protected class. These protected classes include a student’s religion, age, sex, race, color, disability and national origin. The U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Education are responsible for enforcing cases of bullying that also constitute illegal discriminatory harassment.
The laws against unlawful discriminatory harassment also place obligations on schools to address such acts. Schools must address acts that: are severe, pervasive or persistent; create a hostile school environment that substantially interferes with the victim’s ability to benefit from the services of the school; and that are based on a protected class.
When addressing harassment, the school has a number of obligations. It needs to act immediately and appropriately in investigating the incident. If the investigation shows that harassment did take place, the school must take reasonable steps to: stop the current harassment; ensure there is no longer a hostile environment; stop the harassment from happening again; and ensure that the victim of the harassment or those who reported it will not be retaliated against.
If the school fails to take these measures and the harassment continues, the victim may have legal options. For example, they could file a formal grievance with the school district, as well as reach out to the appropriate federal agency. No student should have to put up with harassment in school. When harassment occurs, it is up to schools to take steps to end it. If they do not do so, they could be in violation of federal law.