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School Bullying Case Decided by Federal Court

On August 16, 2016, U.S. District Judge Joseph Bianco decided a case involving school bullying.  Judge Bianco was called upon to decide whether a student was suspended from school because his parents complained about, among other things, the school’s failure to prevent bullying.  The student and parents brought claims against the school including First Amendment retaliation, due process violations, and tort claims including negligent supervision.

In sum, a school student “J.T.”, alleged that he was subjected to an ongoing pattern of bullying for three academic years.  J.T.’s parents complained on several occasions to school officials about the bullying.  According to the plaintiffs, each time they complained, the school offered a different excuse such as that they were unaware of the bullying or that incidents occurred outside of school so it could not do anything about it.  Shortly after each complaint, however, the school suspended J.T.  After attempts by the plaintiffs and their lawyer to have the school stop the bullying failed, they filed suit.

Turning to the First Amendment issue, Judge Bianco addressed defendants’ argument that for the plaintiffs to be able to sue under the First Amendment, they had to show that their speech, i.e. their complaints about the bullying, related to a matter of public concern,  and were not solely personal in nature.  Judge Bianco rejected the argument noting that “matter of public concern” is a question applicable in employment cases, but that the balancing test imposed by the public concern question is not relevant in circumstances unrelated to employment.  Finding that the “temporal proximity” (the timing) between the complaints and suspensions was sufficient to infer a retaliatory intent, Judge Bianco refused to dismiss the First Amendment claim.

The Court also upheld the negligent supervision claim.  Judge Bianco noted that there was evidence showing the school had specific knowledge that the bully intended to target J.T. and failed to prevent the attacks.  Further, the evidence supported that the school had notice of the bullying but allowed “the same kind of harassment” to persist.

The Court, however, dismissed several other claims against the school including due process claims, discrimination claims, and a claim under New York’s Dignity for All Students Act (“DASA”).  DASA, the Court determined, does not allow for a private right of action.  In other words, students who are bullied cannot sue the school under DASA.

In sum, this Court decision provides a guide by which students who are subjected to ongoing preventable bullying may be able to sue their school for allowing the bullying to continue.  If you have questions about school bullying, Judge Bianco’s decision, or other areas of civil rights and students’ rights, contact the Long Island civil rights lawyers at Famighetti & Weinick, PLLC at 6313-352-0050 or visit our website at http://www.linycemploymentlaw.com.

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