Aug. 27, 2014 – When children are bullied, what should their families and their legal counsel do? That question is addressed in the September issue of Wisconsin Lawyer ™, a special edition that is dedicated to issues surrounding children and the law.
The feature story, entitled Bullying: Fighting Back, shares the story of Brittany and Emily, two Pennsylvania sisters who were the target of relentless bullying from another student at school, at home, and on social media. The parents’ federal suit against the school district was dismissed by the district court—a decision that was affirmed by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. In its decision, the court stated that “the Constitution does not provide judicial remedies for every social ill.”
Author William L. Brown of Kasieta Legal Group LLC in Madison notes that bullying is prevalent in Wisconsin, with 24 percent of high school students reporting being bullied in school. According to Brown, bullying is especially troubling in the age of social media.
“Bullying has traveled from the playground to the ubiquitous computer monitor, tablet, and smartphone. Social networking has changed the very definition of ‘communication’ for young people. Bullying inflicted via social media is eternal. Pictures, comments, and posts are permanent, digital testimony to the humiliation of harassment,” writes Brown.
According to Brown, dealing with bullying is difficult from a legal perspective. A survey of Wisconsin appellate cases provides little guidance for parents and practitioners. Brown points to criminal statutes, which Wisconsin police and courts have used to address harassment, unlawful use of telephones, and unlawful use of computerized communication systems. Brown also writes about Wis. Stat. section 118.46, which requires school districts to form policies addressing bullying. As Brown points out, the statute does not provide an enforcement mechanism.
“For many students, recent legislation has not done enough,” writes Brown.
Brown writes that the first course of action should not be litigation.
Andrea Gage is public relations coordinator with the State Bar of Wisconsin. She can be reached at org agage wisbar wisbar agage org, or by phone at (608) 250-6025.
“Students, parents, and lawyers confronting bullying should work with school districts to resolve the issue. If the school fails to take appropriate action, victims and their families should make more formal, written requests for relief to school officials, and they should document every incident of alleged bullying…,” writes Brown. “If bullying persists, students should consider all state and federal claims.”
To learn more about claims available to bullying victims, or to learn about legislative attempts to address the issue, read a special preview of the article at WisBar.org.