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what to do if your child is being bullied in school

Bullying has received a great deal of media coverage in the last couple of weeks. Mostly because of the horrific suicide involving a young junior high school boy who took his own life because he could no longer deal with the abuse he was receiving in school. This, of course, is not a new story and all of us have our own personal memories of being bullied or seeing others bullied when we were in school.  How could this happen in an education system like ours? Those of us with children wonder if they may be the victim of this terrible nightmare - and then the fear that if they are being bullied that they are too fearful to tell even their parents. Why it happens must be the result of deep, underlying fears and insecurities that are developed during the formative child years.  What I know from my own experience in talking with parents of children who have been bullied is the belief that their child's abuse is not being taken seriously by the school or that they just don't believe it's happening. Let's start with a very important premise. Schools in the state of Pennsylvania are protected by a very broad blanket of immunity. That means that even if a teacher or administrator is negligent in their supervisory capacity they are - yes - immune from legal action. There is a very good reason for this immunity protection. We don't want our teachers to be constantly fearful that they may be sued by a disgruntled parent who believes that their child didn't get the grade he/she should have or gets hurt during a school activity. However, the flip side is that they know they are protected by statute and so - well you draw your own conclusions. Lawyers who represent injured people know that accountability is the only effective way to insure diligence and prevent negligent conduct.  It's a hard and true fact that people respond to consequences and one of them is being sued or losing their job. So, how can you get accountability from the teachers, the school board or the superintendent? One thing we know for sure is that school boards are elected and teachers are accountable to them.  First, do not, at the cost of losing your credibility, lose your cool. These people are after all educators and respond much better to "facts". Document and record everything. Dates, times, to whom you spoke and what was said. After each conversation send a confirmation of the discussion to the teacher or principal. Summarize your concerns and their response. As a lawyer, I know that nothing gets people's attention more than a record of events. Always ask for a meeting with the teacher and or the principal. Each time your child reports an incident mark it on a calendar with all of the pertinent information. It should be the school's job to contact the parents of the bully or bullies. If no action is forthcoming then consider contact with the offending child's parent - but this must done in an appropriate way. Tempers can flare and hard lines drawn in the sand. I would suggest using a lawyer or some other representative from the community such as a clergyman. Make no mistake. Bullying can cause permanent and consequential behavior problems which some children will carry with them for the rest of their lives. I always recommend counseling and we have many fine psychologists in the Valley who work with children with these emotional issues. Unfortunately, this conduct is much more prevalent they we would like to think.  Fighting back should be done through legal process and not physically. Dennis F Feeley

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