October 25, 2010

Few bullying cases have received more attention nationally than that of Phoebe Prince, an Irish teenager who attended school in South Hadley, Mass. – until she committed suicide earlier this year after being picked on by classmates.

Since then, parents, school districts and even lawyers have put more attention toward protecting young people from bullies. Massachusetts has enacted an anti-bullying law. Connecticut continues to update its law, which requires schools to offer anti-bullying instruction and control abusive behavior.

Nationally, lawsuits are popping up every month. But instead of suing the bully, many of the suits are filed by parents against the school districts for allegedly turning a blind eye. Prince’s family is contemplating such an action.

Just last month, the Howard County Board of Education in Baltimore was sued by the parents of a sixth-grader who was continually shoved into lockers and stabbed with pencils.

In Ohio, Eric Mohat, 17, was continually the target of anti-gay slurs. One bully told him in class, “Why don’t you go home and shoot yourself; no one will miss you.” So Mohat did. Now his parents are suing school administrators in federal court for not stepping in.

Connecticut has not had any recent high-profile tragedies. But, in recent years, a number of lawsuits have been filed in which parents have accused school officials of failing to get involved when their son or daughter was bullied.

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Attorney Thomas Mooney said schools that take no action in response to a complaint are at greater legal risk than schools that suspend alleged bullies. ‘Intervention is helpful from a liability standpoint,’ he said.