The recent and untimely death of Bart Palosz, a 15-year-old Connecticut boy who committed suicide after his first day of attending Greenwich High School this past year has raised important questions about school and online bullying and the intervention desperately needed from school systems to prevent it.
While details of Palosz’s death have not been released by authorities, parents and students alike of Stamford, Greenwich, Darien, Westport, Wilton, Fairfield, Norwalk and New Canaan public and private school students are focusing on anti-bullying efforts and asking what more can be done to keep students safe and further open up the lines of communication among parents, students, educators and law enforcement.
Earlier this month, Stamford police arrested a 12-year-old girl for bullying her classmate. According to reports, the Stamford school system diligently expended its resources in working with the law enforcement and school officials as well as the children, families, and educators involved in trying to mediate the tension between two female students prior to police and court intervention. It was only after the school system exhausted all of their efforts and the bullying continued that law enforcement intervened and arrested the female student for committing the crime of Disorderly Conduct, a minor misdemeanor which will be adjudicated in the Superior Court Juvenile Court system.
Criminal charges against bullies are becoming more common throughout the country. Here at Mark Sherman Law, we have worked with law enforcement on behalf of bullying victims to investigate bullying and harassing conduct and to pursue prosecutions against online harassment and in-school bullying. There are times when criminal prosecution may be appropriate, especially when the bullying is accompanied by acts of violence, assault and threats. In these cases, it is important to have your voice heard with the police and have the bullies who are assaulting your child arrested.
Parents often look to their school’s teachers and administrators to protect their children from bullying. They trust their educators to keep their children safe and to properly intervene when appropriate.
However, when a child is physically, psychologically or emotionally injured by bullies, can parents sue a school system for the physical and emotional injuries? The answer is yes, under certain circumstances. The lawyers at Mark Sherman Law have successfully sued public and private schools for injuries to students, and while school employees and municipalities are often protected by governmental immunity laws, there are many scenarios where immunity does not apply and lawsuits can be pursued. We will first investigate to get answers to the following questions: Did the school know the student was being harassed or bullied? What did they do about it in the past? Did they contact the parents of everyone involved? Did they send letters home? Did they properly discipline the bullies? Has the school been properly monitoring social media? Did the school psychologist get involved? Was DCF notified? The lawyers at Mark Sherman Law will investigate these questions in its investigation of bullying cases in Stamford, Greenwich, Darien, Westport, Wilton, Fairfield, Norwalk and New Canaan. We can then meet with you and discuss your options for pursuing a civil lawsuit against the school district.
Online bullying has also become extremely prevalent in adolescent circles. Teenagers often use Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to post embarrassing, harassing or humiliating photographs and messages about a bullying target. Much of this media is both civilly and criminally against the law. The attorneys at Mark Sherman Law can work with you to discuss your options in getting this content offline, as well as ensuring that the responsible parties are held accountable and punished appropriately.
My work with the Connecticut Anti-Defamation League’s (the ADL’s) Civil Rights Committee has led to my involvement with the ADL’s “Names Can Really Hurts Us” Program, which is an ADL program offered throughout Connecticut high schools, including Greenwich, Trumbull, Stamford, Darien, New Canaan, Norwalk, and Hartford. The program facilitates workshops and discussions among students about recognizing hateful language, speaking up against it and actively reporting it to the appropriate school officials. I have seen this program in action—it is compelling and emotional for the students, who actively participate. The workshops are cathartic for them and there are followup assemblies and lectures throughout the school year in order to reinforce the anti-bullying messages that are taught to the children.