You can hardly open the newspaper (or virtual newspaper) today in the U.S. without seeing another story related to school bullying. State legislatures, including Missouri’s, have been stepping up with tougher anti-bullying laws.
What behavior rises to the level of bullying
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on its website stopbullying.gov gives extensive information about the bullying of children; its devastating impact; and federal, state, and local laws that deal with it. HHS defines bullying as “unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance” and that is repeated or could be repeated.
The federal agency recognizes three kinds:
- Verbal and written mean language
- Social or relational that hurts another’s “reputation or relationships”
- Physical harm to body or possessions, including offensive gesturing
According to HHS, bullying harms the victim, the aggressor and witnesses. Bullied children are at higher risk of physical, educational and emotional issues like depression, loneliness, sleeping and eating irregularities, and loss of interest in life. These problems can persist even after the bullying stops, sometimes even until after the victim has grown up.
Since 2007, the state of Missouri has required its school districts to adopt official anti-bullying policies because “all students need a safe learning environment.” The statute defines bullying as “intimidation or harassment that causes a reasonable student to fear for his or her physical safety or property.”
The law says specifically that bullying can be:
- Physical, including gestures
Bullying can also be a threat that the perpetrator will retaliate if the victim reports the bullying.
Missouri school district anti-bullying policy requirements
Missouri school district anti-bullying policies must have certain features:
- All kids are to be treated equally instead of calling out certain classes of children for “special treatment.”
- Policies may include age-specific differences.
- Each must spell out the consequences of bullying.
- Employees with “firsthand knowledge” of bullying are subject to mandatory reporting requirements.
- Employees must receive training about the policy.
Some acts of bullying can be violent and even constitute crimes. Each Missouri school district must establish an official discipline policy that lays out how school personnel are to respond to student violence, including weapon possession. The discipline policy must also clarify the scope of and procedure for mandatory reporting of student violence within the district and to law enforcement.
Seek legal advice for victims of bullying in Missouri schools
If you are a Missourian and your child is the object of bullying in school, on the school bus or at school activities, discuss any resulting trauma and injury with a Missouri personal injury attorney with specific experience in school bullying cases.
A knowledgeable lawyer can advise you about your child’s rights and potential legal remedies under the law. For example, your son or daughter may be able to file an administrative complaint or lawsuit based on the Missouri Human Rights Act or federal anti-discrimination law for certain types of harassment.