Suing a School For Bullying: Using a Gebser Letter to Strengthen Your Case
Bullying and harassment is a very serious problem that continues to affect students. Although there have been strives made to end bullying, it still occurs. Here in Florida, we have an ant-bullying law. Public school districts also are supposed to have a zero tolerance policy when it comes to bullying. Despite these laws and policies, I still hear stories from people who tell me that their child’s school refused to address concerns of bullying.I’ve spoken before about the need for good documentation. If you have a problem with a school, it is just not enough to speak to someone about it. You must document. A letter, email, even a text. Something to create a paper trail if the situation is not fixed. Issues of bullying are no exception. Unfortunately, issues of bullying many times accompany children who have disabilities. What should you do if you have a child with a disability who is getting bullied in school, and the school did not do anything to fix the situation in an acceptable manner? If the bullying has continued then you might want to consider speaking with an education attorney about sending on your child’s behalf what has come to be know as a Gebser Letter.A Gebser Letter originated from the 1998 Supreme Court decision Gebser v. Lago Vista School District, 524 U.S. 274 (1998). The Court concluded that in order to receive damages under a Title IX discrimination suit a plaintiff must prove that the school district actually knew about the offense and refused to take action to correct it. The term “Gebser Letter” has now come to mean a letter notifying a school district employee, who has authority, about the ongoing discrimination or bullying.As previously stated, it is recommended that you hire an attorney to send a Gebser Letter. However, here are a few suggestions if a parent attempts to do one on their own:
• Make sure you address the letter to a specific person and date the letter. A principal, district bullying coordinator, or superintendent are suggestions.
• Be as specific as possible and put in the letter all of the past and/or continuing discriminatory activity against your child. Use the terms “severe and pervasive” if you can.
• Explain how the discrimination excluded your child from participation in school or denied your child the same sort of benefits that other students in school have.
• Tell the school district what you would like happen to stop the discrimination or to remedy the harm that the discrimination has done to your child.
• Conclude the letter by stating that if the school district does not investigate, or does not take effective corrective action, that you may claim that the school district showed deliberate indifference to the discrimination. • Finally, make sure you send the letter with some proof of delivery (Overnight mail, return receipt, etc.)
Even if your child does not have a disability, a Gebser style letter can still be useful. Bullying is a serious matter and there are too many heartbreaking stories out there when bullying continues. If your child’s school is not addressing the bullying you should contact an education attorney. Not only can they assist you in writing a Gebser Letter, but may be able to offer other suggestions, depending on the specific case.Richard Asselta is an education law attorney and the founder of Asselta Law, PA, located in Florida. Asselta Law concentrates on Education and School Law, as well as Appeals. Mr. Asselta was the attorney for a large public school district for several years. He draws upon the knowledge gained from the other side of the table to work with teachers and students on legal issues in all education settings. Asselta Law represents clients throughout the state of Florida and the United States. Contact us today for a free consultation with a knowledgeable education lawyer. Credit cards accepted. Affordable payment plans available.