Bullying and the Gebser Letter

You probably know what bullying is. You may not know what a Gebser Letter is or what it does. Sit down, grab your cup of coffee and read on.

The Effects of Bullying

First things first. It is now widely accepted as fact that children with disabilities are more likely to be bullied than their neurotypical and able-bodied peers.  About 20% more likely, to be precise.  A study was performed by Chad Rose of the University of Missouri College of Education and Nicholas Gage of the University of Florida examining 6,500 students from K-12 during the years 2011-13.  Although the study did not include online bullying (which has now become more pervasive through social media), it found that students with disabilities were bullied more than other kids particularly in grades 3 through high school graduation.

More about the study can be found in this excellent article “Disabled children more likely to be bullied during school years, study says” by HealthDay News.  There is even more helpful information on the statistics on bullying and harassment of students with disabilities at the National Bullying Prevention Center’s website.

It is also now widely accepted that bullying negatively affects a student’s ability to learn.  It directly impacts that student’s education.  The U.S. Department of Education’s official blog published an article called “Keeping Students With Disabilities Safe from Bullying” that highlighted a 2013 Guidance Letter on bullying.  A year later, the USDOE’s Office of Civil Rights issued an even stronger Guidance on how schools should handle bullying.

What is a Gebser Letter?

In 1998, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its opinion in a case titled Gebser v. Lago Vista Independent School District, 524 U.S. 274 (1998), in which Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote the opinion for a divided court.  The Court decided that under Title IX, you cannot sue a school district for damages for bullying or harassment unless you have notified a school official who has the ability to take corrective measures on the district’s behalf of the misconduct and the school district is “deliberately indifferent” to the notice.

Out of that case came the very simple concept of preparing a letter – a so-called Gebser Letter – to provide the proper notice to the school.  The only question was whether the school then acts with deliberate indifference to the conduct.

This case emphasizes our constant mantra in special education law – If it ain’t in writing, it never happened. Document everything!

We strongly urge you to consult with a lawyer on the proper format and language of a Gebser Letter and/or if your child has a disability and is the victim of bullying.  We have provided a form Gebser Letter in our packet of special education legal forms, which are FREE to download, but remember that these forms do not constitute legal advice and are not a replacement for consultation with a lawyer in your state.  But the letter could get the ball rolling for your child and you.

Free Special Ed Legal Forms on SchoolKidsLawyer.com.

You can also have a 30 minute consultation with us for $100 to discuss your child’s case.


Stop the Bullying Madness – That Means YOU, Parents!

On January 6, 2011, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie signed into law one of the toughest anti-bullying civil rights laws in the United States.  As with most laws, the creation of the law was the easy part.  The difficult part is the enforcement.  Most states have anti-bullying laws (some, like New Jersey apply to cyberbullying) but the training and implementation of those laws has been sporadic at best; ineffective at worst.

There continue to be events in which kids are committing suicide or having emotional problems because they are being bullied.  The old schoolyard bully who openly picks on a fellow student has gone by the wayside, primarily because such bullies have gotten smarter.  Now they have resorted to anonymous (or what they believe is anonymous) cyberbullying – texting or posting on social media – to intimidate other kids.

– There is the 12 year old Rebecca Sedwick who jumped off a building to her death because of incessant text bullying by her ex-boyfriend’s new girlfriend and a group of girls that Rebecca thought were her friends.  Thankfully the Sheriff arrested two of the girls responsible after they boldly and stupidly remarked about their involvement in the bullying and death of Rebecca. http://www.hlntv.com/article/2013/10/16/rebecca-sedwick-cyber-bullying-arrests

– Joel Morales, a 12 year old boy from Harlem committed suicide after relentless bullying. http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2012/05/harlem-boy-commits-suicide-after-harsh-bullying.html

– In Buffalo, NY, 14-year-old Jamey Rodemeyer committed suicide after being consistently bullied at school.  http://cartersville.patch.com/groups/schools/p/bullying-in-america-reaches-home

There are so many of these incidents that this blog post could go on for pages.  It is disgraceful.

But there are plenty of laws on the books supposedly to prevent this.  Here is a great page (PDF file) that summarizes the various state laws on bullying: http://cyberbullying.org/Bullying-and-Cyberbullying-Laws.pdf

In my opinion, however, it is not laws that will stop bullying.  It is parenting.  Parents of both bullies and victims need to pay attention to their children and their activities and spot the signs of bullying.  In many of these cases, the parents saw some of the signs, but chose to ignore them with the age-old response of “kids will be kids.”  No!  Bullying is not kids being kids.  Bullying is a crime and it is hurtful.

So, parents and school personnel need to learn the signs of bullying, spot them, and do something about it.  Proactive.  I keep seeing commercials that tell kids to speak up about bullying.  Why are we putting the onus on kids who are in the most precarious of positions in the bullying scheme?  Why are we taking the pressure off of parents from being parents?  Parents of victims need to protect their children and, if need be, report it to the authorities and consider removing their child from the school environment if the school will not take action.

But my strongest admonition is for the parents of bullies.  YOU need to take responsibility and parent your kids.  This means discipline; this means controlling your child’s actions; this means teaching your children that bad actions, such as bullying, have bad consequences.  It is not an excuse to say you can’t control your children.  You are the adult; you are the parent.  You accepted that role the second you knew that you were going to have a child.  So you must examine your own actions, because bullies often beget bullies.  And, trust me, if I learn that one of my clients was bullied, I’m not just coming after the child who bullied my client – I’m coming after you, the parents too.

Let’s wake up and stop this bullying madness.  Please.  TODAY!

If anyone has a bullying problem, please contact my office for assistance.  Phone: 856-335-5291; Web: http://schoolkidslawyer.com; Email: info@schoolkidslawyer.com.

Robert C. Thurston, Esq.