Bullying is a major problem in most schools across the country -- one that educators, legislators and administrators have worked tirelessly to eliminate. In what may be becoming a common move, a school district in New Jersey has gone so far as to involve itself in lawsuits against alleged bullies after being named in a lawsuit brought by an ex-student.
This expansion in a school’s involvement has lawyers and lawmakers questioning where the line should be drawn for schools and legal action when it comes to bullying.
The Original Case
In 2013, former student V.B. and his mother filed a lawsuit against the Flemington-Raritan district, which is where he attended middle school and his high school, Hunterdon Central. His lawsuits were filed under the Law Against Discrimination and the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act. He claimed that other students taunted him with homosexual slurs and weight-shaming comments, and they physically abused him by pantsing him, jabbing him and throwing food at him.
School Districts Bringing Third-Party Claims
After V.B. filed his lawsuit, Flemington-Raritan Regional School District, along with Hunterdon Central school district, received permission to bring third-party claims against the five students who were accused of assaulting and battering the former student. The districts originally attempted to file suits against eleven students and all of their parents.
According to Assignment Judge Yolanda Ciccone of Hunterdon, Somerset and Warren counties, the school districts could only bring claims against the most egregious acts of bullying and the students who committed them. Ciccone dismissed the claims that the schools had filed against six other students who had been accused of bullying V.B. She also dismissed the claims filed against the parents of all eleven students, stating there was no evidence that the parents were aware of or involved in the bullying.
Spreading the Responsibility?
V.B.’s lawsuit held the school districts responsible for allowing the bullies to continue their behavior and for failing to take steps to protect him. In filing their own third-party claims against the students involved, the school districts are placing the blame on the actors, removing some—if not all—of the responsibility from the institutions themselves.
Critics of this move have called this an attempt to escape the blame and put someone else in the spotlight for it. While the students who bullied and assaulted V.B. are ultimately in the wrong, the school is supposed to provide a safe place for students to learn; but, without anti-bullying standards, V.B. and other bullied students have nowhere to go.
Others have pointed to existing public policy that allows school districts to file third-party claims, stating that it is the district’s responsibility to manage the environment within their schools and keep kids from bullying.
As more students come forward with bullying accusations and lawsuits, it is important for state and local judges to establish a standard when school districts are involved. Shifting blame may end up harming the original personal injury lawsuit and may keep a bullied student from getting justice.
At Helmer, Conley, and Kasselman, PA, we represent anyone who has been a victim of bullying or other personal incidents. For more information, contact a New Jersey personal injury lawyer at HCK today.