How To Deal With Juvenile School Bullies in Ohio: Strategies, Legal Theories, And Practical Skills

Kyle J. Bristow, Copyright© 2012

I. What is Bullying?

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (“CDC"), “Bullying, particularly among school-age children, is a major public health concern."[1]A 1998 study of 6,500 students in grades 4-6 revealed that 23 percent of them had been bullied at least “several times."[2]A 2011 report by the CDC stated that nearly 30 percent of American adolescents reported at least moderate bullying experiences.[3]

Bullying occurs when a person is “exposed, repeatedly and over time, to negative actions on the part of one or more other persons, and he or she has difficulty defending himself or herself."[4]An “imbalance of power or strength" between the victim and the perpetrator of bullying is an important component of the act of bullying.[5]

Bullying can occur in multiple ways:

  • Verbal bullying, which includes derogatory comments and name-calling
  • Bullying through social exclusion or isolation
  • Physical bullying, which includes hitting, kicking, shoving, and spitting
  • Bullying through lies and false rumors
  • Bullying through theft or damage to property
  • Bullying through threats
  • Racial bullying
  • Sexual bullying, which includes sexual orientation-related slurs
  • Cyber bullying[6]

In recent years, through the advent of technological improvements, bullying has become more sophisticated and, therefore, more invasive and dangerous. In 2010, for example, a University of Rutgers student committed suicide after he was videotaped having a sexual encounter by his roommate through the use of a webcam that was activated remotely and streamed live via the Internet; the video footage was advertised through the use of Twitter.[7]

Through the use of modern technology—such as social networking websites like Facebook and MySpace—, bullying can be relentless in that bullies are able to harass their victims even after school hours. The privacy of one’s home is no longer a barrier of protection from the outside world and the bullies that it harbors.

Through bullying, a victim can be made to suffer depression, low self-esteem, health problems, poor grades, and/or suicidal thoughts.[8]Students who observe bullying tend to be fearful and feel powerlessness, experience guilt, and/or are tempted to participate in said bullying.[9]Schools with bullying problems tend to develop an environment of fear and disrespect in which students have difficulty learning, feel insecure, dislike school, and/or perceive that teachers and administrators have little control.[10]

Researchers now believe that bullies have high self-esteem, in that they have a sense of entitlement, a feeling of superiority over others, and lack compassion and social skills, and act impulsively.[11]Bullies enjoy being cruel to others, are motivated by power, and they feel “very clever and successful at choosing their victims."[12]When a bully loses control over their victim, their self-esteem is reduced; this causes them to look for new victims.[13]

II. Legal Theories: Who to Hold Accountable?

There are multiple adverse parties of interest when bullying occurs. These parties include: school administrators (i.e., the superintendent of the school district, the principal of the school, and teachers of the classrooms where the bullying occurs), the parents or legal guardians of the bully, and the bully. An oftentimes efficient way to get a bully to act civilly is to see to it that those who have supervision over the bully come to understand that they themselves may suffer if they fail to get the bully to behave.

In some situations in Ohio, the parents of a bully may be held financially liable for the actions of the bully, so long as the bully is a minor. For example, if the victim has suffered property damage (R.C. § 2909.05) or intimidation on account of their race, color, religion, or national origin (R.C. § 2927.12), then the parents of the bully may be held jointly and severally liable up to $15,000 in compensatory damages, along with court costs, other reasonable expenses incurred in maintaining the action, and reasonable attorney fees. R.C. § 2307.70. If the bully physically assaults the victim, then the bully’s parents may be held liable, up to $10,000 in compensatory damages, along with costs of the suit. R.C. § 3109.10. Also, a parent who negligently permits their child to use a computer to harass another child may be sued for negligent supervision.

One may also sue the bully for their actions (i.e., assault, battery, intentional/negligent infliction of emotional distress, etc.); however, minors do not have much money and may not immediately view a lawsuit against them to be threatening on account of this fact. A suit against a bully may, however, be threatening in that a judgment in Ohio is collectible for five years (R.C. § 2329.07) and may be revived any time for ten years after the five year dormancy begins (R.C. § 2325.18). This means that one can hold a judgment over the bully’s head for fifteen years after the date judgment has been rendered. Also, except for any period of dormancy, interest accrues on any monetary balance that the bully-debtor owes the victim-creditor. R.C. § 1343.03.

In Ohio, school districts are required to establish policies regarding harassment (R.C. § 3313.666); it is a criminal offense for employees of a school district to permit hazing (R.C. § 2903.31); and victims of hazing may pursue civil relief from those who haze (R.C. § 2307.44).

Federal causes of action may also exist if one wishes to sue adverse parties for bullying. This is an excellent way by which to get around issues of sovereign immunity when suing a school district. Statutes of interest include: the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (both Title VI and IX), 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution. See Fitzgerald v. Barnstable School Committee, 129 S. Ct. 788 (2009). For state causes of action, an analysis must be done to determine whether sovereign immunity can be pierced. See Anderson v. Massillon, 193 Ohio App.3d 297 (5th Dist. 2011).

III. Legal Tactics Available To Confront Bullying

There are multiple methods by which bullying may be combated. These include: having an attorney send the responsible parties a letter whereby a demand is made that the bully stop harassing their victim; filing criminal charges against the bully if their behavior rises to the level of criminal conduct; seeking a personal protection order against the bully; or filing suit against parties that are financially liable for the actions of the bully.

[1]Centers for Disease Control. “Measuring Bullying Victimization, Perpetration, and Bystander Experiences: A Compendium of Assessment Tools."http://www.cdc.gov/ViolencePrevention/pub/measuring_bullying.html. Accessed 16 March 2012.

[2]OLWEUS Bullying Prevention Program. “What is Bullying?" http://www.olweus.org/public/bullying.page. Accessed 16 March 2012.

[3]Centers for Disease Control. “Measuring Bullying Victimization, Perpetration, and Bystander Experiences: A Compendium of Assessment Tools." http://www.cdc.gov/ViolencePrevention/pdf/BullyCompendium-a.pdf. Accessed 16 March 2012.

[4]Id.

[[5]Id.

[6]Id.

[7]CBS. “Gay Student’s Death Highlights Troubling Trend." http://www.cbsnews.com/2100-18563_162-6916119.html. Accessed 16 March 2012.

[8]OLWEUS Bullying Prevention Program. “What is Bullying?" http://www.olweus.org/public/bullying.page. Accessed 16 March 2012.

[9]Id.

[10]Id.

[11]Burns, James. “Do Bullies Have Low Self-Esteem or High Self-Esteem?" Parenting. October 18, 2007. Available at http://behavioral-management.com/bullies-selfesteem. Accessed 16 March 2012.

[12]Id.

[13]Id.

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