School Bullying: How to Address & When to Get Legal Help 

School bullying affects all school-age students, including those who are bullied, those who bully others, and those who witness bullying. The effects of bullying may continue into adulthood and can increase the likelihood depression & anxiety, poor academic achievement, behavior problems, and, in extreme cases, suicide.   

Ohio state law requires that School Districts and Community Schools (Public Charter Schools) have policies prohibiting harassment, intimidation and bullying.  Unfortunately, these policies are often difficult to find, and even if a family is savvy enough to locate the policies, navigating the complaint procedures can be overwhelming.   

As education attorneys representing low-income families in education disputes, we are often approached by families whose child has experienced harassment or bullying.  These families are in crisis, concerned for their child’s safety, and unsure about the next steps.  Here is what we tell them: 

  • If your family has concerns that your child is experiencing bullying in the school environment, a complaint and request for investigation should promptly be made to the school, in writing.  Most districts require that such reports of bullying be reasonably specific including persons involved, number of times and places of the conduct, and the names of any potential student or staff witnesses.  Make sure to date and make copies of the complaint for yourself.
  • As part of your complaint, request a safety plan while the investigation is occurring. Who is a trusted adult that the student can approach if bullying is occurring? Is additional supervision required, or a no-contact order? Should social media monitoring be implemented?  
  • If the school investigation substantiates the bullying claims, interventions and remediation should be implemented by the District.  Perhaps this means change in schedules, counseling for either or both students, a restorative justice process, self-advocacy training for the bullied student, or long-term additional adult supervision in certain environments.   

Each bullying situation is different, and often finding a route forward will involve hard work by the families and educators working together to identify creative solutions and supports for all children involved.    If a child has a disability, or if the bullying is targeting a protected class, such as gender or race, additional federal protections may apply.    

If you have taken the steps above, and you do not believe the school’s response has been adequate, you may want to contact an attorney. While we may not have the staff to provide full legal representation for every low-income family whose child may have experienced bullying, we can always give advice, provide copies of the District policies, and often can negotiate a resolution of the case. Our services are always free for financially eligible families.  

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