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What can be done when my child is being bullied?
Parents expect schools to be safe places for their children to learn, grow, and hopefully enjoy themselves and make friends. Yet sometimes, for some children, school becomes nightmarish when they become the victim of a bully. Bullying can range from teasing or name calling to physical violence, and ignoring the bully or staying out of his or her way is easier said than done. Fortunately, there are ways that Texas law can help the victim of bullying.
The Education Code defines bullying as speech, writing, or physical contact that physically harms a student or his property or gives the student the reasonable fear that such harm will occur. Tex. Educ. Code § 37.0832. Alternatively, it is speech, writing (including electronic communications), or physical contact that “is sufficiently severe, persistent, and pervasive” to create an “intimidating, threatening, or abusive educational environment.” Id. The behavior must also exploit a power imbalance between the bully and his or her victim, interfere with the victim’s education or the operation of the school, and occur on or in school property and at a school-sponsored or related activity. Id.
Though the Education Code provides a State-wide definition, it allows each school district to adopt a policy concerning bullying, prevention, and counseling. Id. Each district’s policy is to be posted on the district’s website. Id. The Code does, however, require that the victim of bullying be moved to a different classroom or campus from the bully at the request of the victim’s parents. Id. at § 25.0342. The bully may be moved at the discretion of the district’s board of trustees. Id.
When the bullying behavior does not fit the Education Code’s strict definition of bullying or perhaps in addition to using the remedies provide by the school district, the Texas Civil Practices and Remedies Code also has a way of dealing with bullies should parents wish to pursue a civil lawsuit. It defines harassment as behavior that specifically targets the bullying victim that is likely “to harass, annoy, alarm, abuse, torment, or embarrass” the victim. Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 85.001. The stalker can be liable monetarily for the mental anguish caused by the harassment. Id.
Perhaps in even more severe situations of bullying, a family may turn to the Texas Penal Code for criminal charges against the bully. The definition of criminal harassment covers many communications—persistent phone calls or threats, for example—that are intended to “harass, annoy, alarm, abuse, torment, or embarrass” the victim. Tex. Penal Code § 42.07. The communication may be electronic. Id. Harassment is a Class B misdemeanor for a first offense. Id. The offense of stalking may also apply to bullying behavior. Stalking is a pattern of behavior that constitutes the offense of harassment or is considered threatening to the victim or his or her family, property, or pet. Id. at § 42.072. An offense of stalking is a third degree felony for a first offense. Id.
A child should not have to suffer or ignore a bully, and there are many resources available to help children who have become the victim of bullying. The law provides a way for attorneys to be one of these tools a family may use to stop bullying.