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Court: Schools Liable Even if Bullying Target Not Their Student

Jonathan Cooper
Employment Litigation and School Negligence Lawyer

In a decision that is “hot off the presses,” a Nassau County judge denied a public school’s motion to dismiss a complaint that was brought by the parents of a cyberbullied teen under New York’s Dignity for All Students Act, and decided that a public school was not absolved of responsibility for failing to stem cyberbullying by its students – even though the target of the bullying – another teenager – wasn’t a student at their school.

The Decision

Here’s what the court said:

The matter before the court, as to whether DASA applies to the District at bar, is a case of first impression. It is not disputed that DASA applies to a public school, and does not apply to a private school, but rather, the argument is that DASA does not apply to the District in this case as the minor plaintiff is not the District's student.

The statute does not limit the regulation of students' harassment and bullying only when it occurs on school property or only when the victim or intended target is a student who is not registered in the "public school." … The clear purpose of the article is to prevent the type of conduct complained of … and its purpose is to require that a public school comply with the statute and foster civility and prevent the type of conduct complained of by the plaintiffs herein. The historical and statutory notes provide that the "legislature finds it vital to protect all students from harassment, bullying, cyberbullying and discrimination.“

Why the School is Likely to Appeal

Quite frankly, I’d be shocked if the school doesn’t appeal this decision, if for no other reason than its potentially wide-ranging implications for New York’s public schools. More specifically, the schools are likely to argue that the trial court’s reading of the statute is way too broad, and could threaten them with far greater liability than the legislature ever intended. On the other hand, if you can’t hold schools liable for cyberbullying committed by its students – even if the target of the bullying attends a different school, the statute could be stripped of any real ability to achieve its primary purpose – protecting students from cyberbullying.

It certainly should prove interesting to see how this case plays out.