In 2010, a 13-year-old California boy named Seth took his own life after experiencing years of anti-gay bullying in school. His school had failed to address the bullying, even though California law requires that all public school students be given equal access to educational opportunities.
After Seth’s death, the California legislature came to believe that the law was not strong enough to protect kids, and Seth’s Law went into effect in 2012. The law protects public school students from bullying, discrimination, harassment or intimidation based on their actual or perceived:
- Sexual orientation
- Gender identity or expression
It is also illegal to bully people or groups who have two or more of these characteristics. And, the law applies to all acts related to school activity or school attendance or occurring within a school. Finally, Seth’s Law requires schools to protect complainants from retaliation for making complaints.
Seth’s Law also protects students by requiring school districts to adopt strong anti-bullying policies that specifically spell out the characteristics protected by the law. It also requires them to adopt a process for receiving and investigating complaints, to publicize the anti-bullying policy and complaint process, and to include materials to support victims of bullying on school district websites.
Perhaps most important, Seth’s Law put the following requirement into law: “If school personnel witness an act of discrimination, harassment, intimidation or bullying, he or she shall take immediate steps to intervene when safe to do so.”
Some California public school students continue to suffer from bullying, harassment, intimidation and discrimination. Your school is required by law to step in when it becomes aware of this activity. It is also required to have a specific complaint and investigation process, including a timeline and an appeals process. It must publicize this process, including posting it in all schools and offices and translating it, as appropriate.
Consequence for bullies range in suspension to expulsion and potential civil liability for the bully and for the school if it fails to take action. There are timelines that impact your filing of a claim for bullying so hiring an attorney is critical to do after the first notice of the incident. Legally actionable bullying i.e. those that warrant considerable remedies and action typically involve evidence of physical and mental abuse. Do visit a professional to get your child treated immediately if any of these forms of abuse have occurred.
If you feel you (or your child) are being bullied, you may have legal recourse.
Leigh Law Group represents students in civil rights matters.