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Beyond Bullying: Civil and Criminal Law Implications

Michelle Gwinn Nutter

As schools work to successfully prevent and intervene in acts of bullying, they are often challenged by bullying behaviors that cross the line into civil, civil rights or criminal law violations. The United States Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights, has provided significant guidance through the issuance of a series of "Dear Colleague" letters, which will be reviewed and discussed during the session. Additional guidance from the United States Department of Justice and the White House (in the form of YouTube videos) will also be viewed and discussed. Participants will examine federal statutes which prohibit bullying and harassment based on protected classes, such as gender (including gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation), race, national origin and disability. (Statutes include Title VI of the Civil Right Act of 1964, prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin; Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex; and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability.) Participants will also receive information relative to possible criminal law implications when bullying behaviors cause mental or physical injury to targeted students. (Possible criminal charges include harassment, disorderly conduct, simple and aggravated assault and a variety of sexual and child pornography charges.) Finally, this session will examine the legal ramifications of "deliberate indifference" with regard to failure to address bullying in their schools.

Goals and Objectives

By the conclusion of the presentation, participants will be able to:

  1. understand how bullying behavior impacts today's students and their school environment;
  2. provide examples of bullying behaviors that cross the line into criminal activity;
  3. explore the issues of "protected class" and "deliberate indifference" as it relates to bullying.

Presentation Outline

  1. What is Bullying?
    1. Olweus Bullying Prevention Program definition
    2. Pennsylvania legislated definition
    3. Roles of bullying
    4. Types of bullying
  2. Civil Law Implications
    1. Slander
    2. Libel
    3. Defamation of Character
    4. Discrimination
      1. Title IX
      2. Section 504 of Rehabilitation Act and Title II of ADA
      3. Civil Rights Act of 1964
      4. Pennsylvania Human Relations Act
    5. Harassment/Sexual Harassment
  3. Criminal Law Implications
    1. Harassment by Communication or Address
    2. Disorderly Conduct
    3. Simple and Aggravated Assaults
    4. Possession/Distribution of Child Pornography (including sexting)
    5. Ethnic Intimidation (Hate Crimes)
  4. Putting it all together: Scenario discussion
  • Mid-Atlantic Addiction Research and Training Institute
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