Can I sue a public school for children bullying my child?

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Can I sue a public school for children bullying my child?

My daughter has went through a lot this year. I’ve had the school counselor calling me at least once a month about her. There’s been an ongoing issue at school with some of the students making fun of my daughter calling her names and obviously leaving her out of their group while on good terms on purpose. This has happened all school year and it’s like she is the only one that has been punished for it. It got so bad, that last month we agreed to take her to be evaluated in a hospital to try and find out what was wrong with her. She spent almost 2 weeks missing Christmas and New Years because she was away. She was diagnosed with severe depression with psychotic features. She came home and it seemed like she was doing well. A little different from the new meds she was on but for the most part, she was good. Her first day back to school, the nurse called me at 9:30 in the morning to come get her because she was sick. We had her checked out and she had appendicitis. The next day she had surgery to get that removed. She recovered shortly and tried going back to school. The first day back she wore make up that she had gotten for Christmas and one of the boys that have caused trouble all year long with her told her she was ugly with or without it. The next day at school, the counselor called me to come get her. She said that my daughter she was saying really bad stuff and needed another assessment. I was at work which was about an hour away so I had my aunt pick her up. Apparently, she was on the playground and kids were calling her pyscho and bad things and she got into her depressed stage and wanted to hurt herself. She was emotionally torn up and 2 boys that have picked on her all year kept staring at her and talking about her saying that she was psycho and she would probably kill them and things like that. She told them if they looked at her again she would twist their heads off. My daughter went today for her assessment and I told her counselor I wanted to see a doctor right then. He talked to us and told me that she did not need to go back to that school because that was her problem. She is depressed from being bullied and emotionally hurt. My kid is now out of school and we don;t have another school around us closer than a 45 minute drive.

Asked on January 17, 2019 under Personal Injury, North Carolina

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 2 years ago | Contributor

First, as parents ourselves, let us express our sympathy and empathy for what you are going through.
Second, let us state that we wish we could give you a definitive answer, but we cannot. The problem is that while schools do have a duty to properly supervise the children in their care and can be liable when then they, despite warnings of threats, risks, or bad behavior, fail to act and allow child A to harm child B, it is very difficult to hold a school liable for non-physical harm (that is, when it's not a case of A threatening B, then following through on those threats by physically attacking and harming B). The reasons it is difficult are several-fold:
1) It is hard to prove both  the existence of emotional or psychological harm (i.e. that it exists; it's severity), but also the causality: that is, you need to prove that A's behavior caused B's harm, and that is difficult with non-physical injury.
2) In relation to the above, if your daughter has any psychological or emotional issues which she would have regardless of any bullying, it it will be very difficult to show that whatever harm she has suffered or problems endured did not result from those pre-existing or innate conditions but rather came from the bullying.
3) You also need to show that even if you can demonstrate that the school's inaction allowed harm to befall your daughter, that the school failed to take reasonable steps given what they knew. The school's obligation is not to prevent all harm, which is impossible, but to do what is reasonale to minimize or mitigate harm. This, too, can be a difficult thing to show.
4) Finally, suing will invovle putting your daughter on the witness stand. Assume the school's lawyer will try to discredit, if not destroy her. Suing can be very traumatic for her. Example: an emotionally disturbed girl in my daughter's school attacked my daughter without provocation and conscussed her. We pressed charges. During the trial, the attacker's lawyer tried to blame my daughter for provoking the attack and also tried to claim she was lying about what happened. She was reduced to tears and harmed as much by the trail as by the attack.
All in all, all we can say is that in theory you can sue, but there are reasons to not do so, or at least to think carefully before doing so.


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