Schools – Bullying & Discrimination
Schools and colleges/universities have legal responsibilities to protect children and young adults. Unfortunately, schools and colleges often fail in this responsibility. There are a variety of reasons why schools and colleges fail in this responsibility. One of the biggest reasons seems to be a denial that problems exists. Another barrier is that schools and colleges often do not seem to know how to deal with problems when they occur. This is despite the fact that many of the laws and policies that have been on the books since the early 1970s.
The primary goal at Justice & Equality Legal Services is assist parents and students in advocating with the school, school board, OSPi, etc. to ensure you or your child has a safe learning environment. Our focus is to resolve the issue administratively (i.e., not filing a civil lawsuit). The hope is that by pointing out the policies and procedures that schools should be following and helping parents identify solutions with the schools that adequate resolutions can be reached without the need for litigation. Litigation can take years and years, and by the time resolution is reached through litigation, students have graduated, transferred, or simply dropped out.
This isn’t to say discourage parents and students from proceeding with litigation (a lawsuit). Unfortunately, all too often it seems that schools try to play a waiting game, they delay, claim they will take certain actions and then the actions never seem to occur. Sometimes what happens in school is so egregious that a the only appropriate response seems to be moving forward with a lawsuit or towards litigation. Sometimes, due to the schools delays, a lawsuit is the only way to achieve results.
A core value of JELS is empowerment. JELS seeks to empower students and families by raising awareness of the laws and how to advocate for themselves. Whether or not you can hire an attorney, throughout this website, you’ll find a variety of resources. The laws addressing discrimination and bullying in schools can be found here and some explanation on what to do when you or your child is being discriminated against in school or college is available here. A FAQ by the Department of Education Office of Civil Rights regarding Title IX and sexual violence can be found here.
It is critical to document efforts to address bullying, discrimination, harassment, or any other issue is in writing. While typically you start with the people in the building (principal, vice principal), you will often need to elevate to the district (HIB Compliance officer, Title IX Officer, Superintendent), if you aren’t getting any response, the next step would be to reach out to the school board.
Some decisions decisions of the School Board may be appealed, either through a specific court process or to the Office of the Superintendent of Public Education (OSPI). However, you do not have to wait until things get far along to contact OSPI (Safety Center – Bullying & Harassment or Equity & Civil Rights) or the Governor’s Office of the Education Ombuds. They both have staff designed to help resolve concerns around issues of discrimination and bullying. In addition, you can reach out to the Wing Luke Civil Rights Division of Washington State Attorney’s General Office. The number of places to reach out to is a bit daunting and for the most part, their ability to help will depend on the School District’s willingness to come to the table.