Are Schools Liable for Cyberbullying?

Cyberbullying has been a rising topic of conversation in recent years. With the advent of social media and the push to create digital personas, younger people, such as junior high and high school students, around the country are seeing the good and the bad of using technology in the school’s hallways. But when it comes to moments of cyberbullying, who is held liable?

Most states have anti-bullying laws, but these laws do not provide for private causes of action. California, for example, is instituting new laws that deal with cyberbullying and media literacy to keep the public informed on the risks surroundings those two categories. But even with these new laws and practices, there is still room for lawsuits to be given out under state or federal anti-discrimination laws.

There are a number of general requirements that must be met before a school or district can be held liable. Let’s look at some of them.

When Are Schools Liable?

School districts will only be liable for bullying that happens on school ground or when the victim in in the school’s custody somehow, such as a field trip, club event or sports event on the road.

In some cases, schools may be held liable for bullying that happens over the Internet, such as cyberbullying. If the cyberbullying act occurred over a school computer, the district may be held responsible. Liability may also be in place when the bully uses his or her own device, but did so while on school grounds.

Public school districts that receive federal funding may be held responsible in monetary damages for indifference to known moments of harassment based on a protected class. This usually is a severe instance that includes unfortunate physical harm.

However, if school employees and administrators had knowledge of an act, they can be held liable. Also, a school district may be held liable in a federal lawsuit if an official with authority to address bullying did nothing about it, even with knowledge of an event happening.

Whatever the method used or the location of the attack, there should always be an awareness by school administrators of insurance for educators that financially protects school and district employees in the event of legal litigation. Courts fees, lawyer fees and reputational hits can be costly in the event of a lawsuit around cyber bullying and having insurance to back you up can alleviate the financial stress.

School Immunity

School officials and districts may be immune from a lawsuit in some instances. Some states grant school districts and boards absolute immunity for employees and others grant qualified immunity when employees are preforming their discretionary functions as long as they were not done in bad faith.

About PGUI

Professional Governmental Underwriters, Inc., is a full-service risk management company dedicated to assisting public, educational and non-profit entities in the management of their professional liability exposures. We are dedicated to providing state-of-the-art professional underwriting management and loss control advisory services on behalf of our designated carriers. For more information, call us toll-free at (800) 586-6502.