Articles Posted in Bullying Laws

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Good Georgia Lawyer regularly handles education issues, student due process and disciplinary hearings, and teacher/administrator employment matters. Recently, we were very grateful for this testimonial that came from the mother of a son who was being violently assaulted as a bullying victim. Here is a thank you letter she wrote to us:

“This is a testimony of the level of of assistance I received when it came to my son. I could never thank you enough because when I came to you I was at a crossroads about my sons future in middle school as well as in High school because of his issues with bullying . He had been bullied since sixth (6th) grade because of questions regarding his sexuality and because he was coming from a private school setting. My son had been jumped and assaulted on numerous occasions but also threatened because of his diversity and also because of his unfamiliarity to a public school setting. Julie, you assisted me with this issue and further checked to make sure that his transition was easy when it came to a different setting and also a high school setting.

Unfortunately , that wasn’t the case, even going to a different Dekalb County High School, because my son was different and had been labeled as “NOT” gang affiliated he was targeted yet, again. Not because of his sexuality but because he was fortunate. In the midst of all of this I was forced to turn to you (Julie} once again. My son had been jumped by gangs on two (2) separate occasions . . . My son suffers from chronic asthma and was seriously injured and a victim of a brutal assault assaulted twice in one (1) week. Thankfully you (Julie) were at my aid, yet again. and advocated for my son’s rights and made sure that justice was met on his behalf.

Today, my son is in a diverse high school setting thanks to you. Julie, I can never thank you enough because your true passion is in education and serving and empowering our youth. Julie Oinonen, you are truly a blessing! [My son] and I thank you from the bottom of our heart for all that you do, and for caring!!!”
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Federal law under The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) (20 U.S.C. § 1232g; 34 CFR Part 99) gives parents the rights to their children’s educational records. The law applies to all schools that receive funds under an applicable program of the U.S. Department of Education. This applies to most schools.

What Are A Parent’s Rights Under FERPA?

FERPA gives parents certain rights with respect to their children’s education records:

• Parents have the right to review and inspect their child’s educational records maintained by the school. Schools may charge for copies.

• Parents have the right to request that a school correct a record that they believe to be inaccurate. If the school decides not to amend the educational record, the parent has a right to a formal hearing. After the hearing, if the school still decides not to amend the record, the parent has a right to place a statement with the record reflecting their viewpoint about the information that is contested.

• Generally, schools must have in writing permission from a parent to release information about a student’s educational record. The law allows schools to disclose those records to the following parties under the following conditions:

 School officials who have a legitimate educational interest in reviewing the record;
 Another school where the student transfers to;
 Appropriate officials for evaluation or auditing purposes;
 Appropriate individuals in connection to the student’s financial aid;
 Organizations providing certain studies on behalf of the school;
 Accreditation institutions;
 To comply with a court order or subpoena;
 Appropriate officials in safety and health emergencies; and  Juvenile justice system authorities, pursuant to specific State law.

Schools are allowed to disclose, without consent, “directory” information including name, phone number, and other such basic information as long as they tell parents about such information and allow a reasonable time frame to opt out.

These rights under FERPA will transfer to the student when they reach the age of majority (age 18) or attend college or an educational institution beyond high school.
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A family in Gwinnett County are very upset when their 13-year-old child was suspended after voluntarily turning in a pocket knife he had found in his school bag. After complaining, school officials agreed to decrease the number of days he was suspended and rethink the suspension policy.

The young child found the pen knife in the backyard that his aunt had bought second hand at a yard sale and given him as a Christmas gift. As soon as he found the knife, he immediately turned it into his teacher.

Even though it was obviously not the young man’s fault, common sense did not follow and the school foolishly gave the boy a four day in school suspension for violating the school policy on weapons.

Since then, though, school officials have now reduced the boy’s suspension to two days and claim they will “rethink” the policy. Says the boy’s father: “He is a very good child. We’ve never had a discipline problem with him; he is in Boy Scouts, he is very good natured.” Additionally, he told his son, “Jack, you did the right thing. What else could you have done?”

Severe and automatic punishments evolved from the ‘zero-tolerance’ movement which started in the eighties in keeping with the federal anti-weapons and drug policies. But as the AJC reports: over the years, Georgia students have been suspended under zero tolerance “for kissing a girl on the forehead, wearing a studded belt, bringing a French teacher a gift-wrapped bottle of wine and carrying a Tweety Bird wallet with a chain on it.”

In 2009, a similar incident happened when a middle school student accidentally brought a fishing knife to school and ended up being expelled, arrested, convicted of a felony and sent to an alternative program even though he voluntarily gave up the knife to the principal.

This is an example of the type of absurd, common-sense lacking decisions that sometimes occur among school districts as experienced by some of Good Georgia Lawyer’s clients. Fortunately, in response to the 2009 incident, state Senator Emanuel Jones, a Democrat from Decatur, sponsored legislation that required a hearing before taking a student into custody and prohibits charging a student as a designated felon unless the weapon is used in an assault or it is a gun. This bill was signed into law in spring of 2010 by the Governor.

If your son or daughter becomes a victim of this type of common senseless injustice, it can be very helpful to contact an attorney right away to protect your child’s legal rights. Georgia law provides that if there is the potential of a suspension longer than ten days, then O.C.G.A. § 20-2-753 requires a disciplinary hearing where the requirements of O.C.G.A. §20-2-754 are met including providing written notice, entitling the student to be represented by legal counsel and to present evidence.

In this instance, if the period of discipline is shorter than ten days, an attorney is still helpful to protect your child’s rights in these types of extreme instances. If other issues are involved–such as violations of Georgia bullying law or federal disability laws–there can be even greater need to obtain legal counsel.
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Good Georgia Lawyer is very sad to report that another child has tragically lost their life due to suicide as a result of bullying. The Illinois family of a 10-year-old honor student named Ashlynn Conner who committed suicide last week stated that their daughter had been a victim of bullying at her elementary school and in her community.

Ashlynn, a student at Georgetown Ridge Farm Elementary School, told her mother two weeks before her death that she was being bullied for years and did not know how to react to the bullies.

Last week, Ashlynn asked her parents if she could be home-schooled. Shortly thereafter, her sibling found her hanging in her closet. The Police are now investigating the bullying claims through Twitter and emails.

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fat boy.jpgGood Georgia Lawyer invites you to attend tomorrow night’s event, a screening of the fabulous film “The Fat Boy Chronicles” presented by Sandy Springs Education Force at North Springs Charter High School auditorium, Thursday, September 15th from 7:00 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Click on the following link for more information: flyer-Family-Movie-Night-091511.pdf

A panel discussion will take place following the movie with author Michael Buchanan and the film’s star, Chris Rivera.

If you have a child that is going through a bullying experience, this movie presents the perfect educational and entertainment opportunity. This film is about an overweight young teenager who is bullied about his appearance. The bullying makes school a very difficult experience for him. Yet he still manages to persevere, overcome his goals, lose weight and win over his dream girl.

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Thumbnail image for bullying.jpgIt is a start of a new school year and hundreds of children across Georgia will begin this fall with new teachers, new school supplies, new school uniforms, and a new beginning. Hopefully for most, bullying will not be a part of that equation.

Last year, our law firm assisted multiple families across Georgia whose children were dealing with bullying related issues from the most minor (occasional taunting) to the most serious (physical and sexual assault.)

The AJC wrote a very good article last November detailing the bullying problem in Georgia, also mentioning Williams Oinonen LLC’s managing partner Julie Oinonen who has represented students, parents, and teachers in school districts around Georgia and has handled some of the most difficult bullying cases.

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Thumbnail image for bullying.jpgPolice arrested a 14-year-old New Jersey City boy for allegedly threatening two 12-year-old boys on Facebook by threatening to kill and hurt them, calling them “gay” and “fat” and stating to one boy that he would tie him to a pole, attach a rope and hook to the boys stomach, tie it to a car and drive off tearing off his body. He allegedly did all this because he believed they were interested in his girlfriend.

The fourteen year old now faces charges of harassment and making terroristic threats.

According to the prosecutor, he used fake screen names on Facebook to threaten one victim, using a second and third name after the first was blocked. Shockingly, investigators do not believe he knew the boys personally.

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fat boy.jpgOur law firm helps protect the rights of those injured or harm due to a wrong or injustice. Just a few of the many cases we do involve children who are victims of bullying. We are pleased that our firm was invited to attend the special showing of The Fat Boy Chronicles.

This is a movie about an overweight young teenage boy who is bullied about his physical appearance. The bullying of his classmates make going to school a difficult experience. Yet the young man still manages to overcome his goals to lose weight and win over the girl of his dreams.

The movie is based on Lang Buchanan’s latest novel, The Fat Boy Chronicles, which tells the story of an obese 9th grader struggling to find his way in our thin-obsessed society.

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The following are some of the legal implications regarding bullying at schools in Georgia:

1. A school must not violate 42 USC Section 1983 by acting under color of state law by tolerating a custom or practice of bullying which leads to a deprivation of a student’s constitutionally protected rights.

2. Disabled students are protected under Section 504 and the IDEA which has the purpose “to ensure that all children with disabilities have available to them a free appropriate public education that emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs and prepare them for further education, employment, and independent living; to ensure that the rights of children with disabilities and parents of such children are protected.” See 20 USCS §§ 1400.

3. Under Georgia law, O.C.G.A. §20-2-751.4 (2010), Policies prohibiting bullying; (b) Each local board of education shall adopt policies, applicable to students in grades six through twelve, that prohibit bullying of a student by another student and shall require such prohibition to be included in the student code of conduct for middle and high schools in that school system.

4. Additionally under Georgia law, O.C.G.A. §20-2-751.4 (2010), Policies prohibiting bullying; (b) Local board policies shall require that upon a finding that a student has commited the offense of bullying for the third time in a school year, such student shall be assigned to an alternative school. Each local board of education shall ensure that students and parents of students are notified of the prohibition against bullying, and the penalities for violating the prohibition by posting such information at each middle and high school and by including such information in student and parent handbooks.

5. Furthermore, pursuant to Georgia law, O.C.G.A. §20-2-751.4 (2010) (c), Policies prohibiting bullying; (b) any school system which is not in compliance with the requirements of Georgia bullying laws will be ineligible to receive state funding. Thus if a school has been on notice that students have repeatedly bullied someone over three times, and yet none of these students have been assigned to alternative schools, it puts the school system out of compliance with the requirements for state funding eligibility.

6. Students who threaten to assault other students are guilty of criminal laws prohibiting assault and battery.

7. Bullying is a direct violation of student’s right s under the Georgia Constutiton which states in the Bill of rights Paragraph One: “No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property except by due processof law.” And Paragraph Two: “Protection to person and property is the paramount duty of government and shall be impartial and complete. No person shall be denied the equal protection of the laws.”
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The best way to resolve a bullying problem with the school is to try and take a non-adversarial collaborative approach. If that doesn’t work, you can pursue other legal means to protect your child’s rights. But the best strategy is to try and resolve it with the school principals and teachers as part of a team, using a non-adversarial approach if at all possible.

In order to protect your child’s rights, and insure that you can reach a positive resolution, it is important to document all communications in writing. Getting your child’s teachers, principals, guidance counselor, and other school administrator’s email addresses is an important first step. Rather than coming across adversarial, be polite but firm in all emails, telephone calls, and face to face conversations. Let them know that you appreciate their commitment to educating children and ask for help. Let them know that your child is in danger at school and does not feel safe.

Ask for a meeting with the school principal and teachers to address this problem and work out a strategy for how to handle future bullying incidents. Let the school administrators know that you expect them to implement zero tolerance for bullying policies, enforce Georgia law, and to punish the kids who are bullying in addition to informing the parents of those involved.

After the meeting, document the results of the meeting in writing via email or letter to the principals and teachers, confirming the plan that was set in place to protect your child and thank them for helping you resolve this issue.

If communicating with the principals, teachers, and school administrators fails to work, there are other steps that you can take to solve your child’s bullying problem. Here are a couple suggstions to keep in mind:

1. If another child or teenager assaults your child (e.g. punches them in the face or gravely injures them) consider pressing charges. You shouldn’t go to the local police station in instances when dealing with a minor. Rather, you can contact the school resource officer and you can file a report with the local juvenile court to file an official complaint against the juvenile delinquent for unruly behavior. This will show both the bully and the bully’s parents that you mean business and will not tolerate or accept your son or daughter to be the victim of violence and harassment.

2. Consider hiring an attorney. A good attorney will understand the legal implications and duties that the school has to prevent your child from becoming the victim of incessant bullying.
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