Q: “My son is gay. He is being bullied at school. He goes to public school. He has tried to stand up to these kids and has reported it to his teachers, but nothing has changed. It is making him really depressed and scared to go to school. What can I do to help him? What rights does he have?”
A: Tina, you should be concerned and you are a good parent for getting involved. Bullying has reached epidemic proportions in American schools. The California Legislature has acknowledged this and has mandated that local school districts adopt anti-bullying and anti-discrimination rules to provide a threat-free educational environment. The San Francisco Unified School District has complied with this requirement and has adopted an anti-bullying code.
The following comes, in large part, from the SFUSD’s online publications regarding bullying. Generally, any pupil who feels that he or she has been subjected to discrimination, harassment, intimidation or bullying should immediately contact the principal, any other staff member or the compliance coordinator.
In addition, any pupil or teacher who observes any such incident should report the incident to the principal or compliance coordinator, whether or not the victim files a complaint. Teachers have an obligation to intervene, when safe, to stop the bullying. The SFUSD prohibits any form of retaliation against any pupil who files a complaint or report regarding an incident of discrimination, harassment, intimidation or bullying.
Pupils who engage in discrimination, harassment, intimidation, bullying or retaliation in violation of law, school board policy or administrative regulation shall be subject to appropriate discipline, up to and including counseling, suspension and/or expulsion. Any employee who permits or engages in bullying shall be subject to disciplinary action, up to and including dismissal.
Complaints should also be filed with the SFUSD Office of Equity, 555 Franklin St., Room 306, Complainants’ names should be held confidential to the extent possible and retaliation is prohibited. A very good online resource that contains complaint forms can found by be searching online for “San Francisco Unified School District Office of Family Voice.”
Complaints generally need to be filed within six months from the date of the occurrence. If there is a continuing pattern, then it should be reported as soon as possible and complaints outside the six-month window may be considered. The compliance coordinator then has five days to provide you with the SFUSD’s board policy and administrative regulations setting forth the rights you have and the steps, and timelines associated with the process. First, the SFUSD will try and mediate the problem. If that fails, then it proceeds with a formal investigation that must be completed, and a formal report issued, within 60 days. The complainant is entitled to a copy of the report and the decision and/or finding. If discipline is warranted, the school district shall reveal that corrective action has been taken, but it may keep that form of action confidential.
If you are unhappy, you can, within 15 days of the decision, appeal the determination to the state superintendent of public instruction. After 60 days has passed following the filing of an appeal, you may seek civil remedies, through the courts, seeking damages and injunctive relief (orders from the court to stop or change certain behaviors and/or policies).
Christopher B. Dolan is owner of the Dolan Law Firm. Email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.