Tag Archives: U.S. Supreme Court

U.S. Supreme Court declines to accept school bullying case, Morrow v. The Blackhawk School District

16 Dec

Moi wrote about bullying in School bullying: Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency report:
The Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency has issued the report, Bullying in Schools: An Overview by Ken Seeley, Martin L. Tombari, Laurie J. Bennett, and Jason B. Dunkle. Among the study’s findings are:

o Bullying is a complex social and emotional phenomenon that plays out differently on an individual level.
o Bullying does not directly cause truancy.
o School engagement protects victims from truancy and low academic achievement.
o When schools provide a safe learning environment in which adults model positive behavior, they can mitigate the negative effects of bullying.
o Any interventions to address bullying or victimization should be intentional, student-focused engagement strategies that fit the context of the school where they are used.
The report makes the following recommendations:
o Increase student engagement.
o Model caring behavior for students.
o Offer mentoring programs.
o Provide students with opportunities for service learning as a means of improving school engagement.
o Address the difficult transition between elementary and middle school (from a single classroom teacher to teams of teachers with periods and class changes in a large school) (Lohaus et al., 2004).
o Start prevention programs early.
o Resist the temptation to use prefabricated curriculums that are not aligned to local conditions.
Increase Student Engagement
Bullied children who remain engaged in school attend class more frequently and achieve more. Challenging academics, extracurricular activities, understanding teachers and coaches, and a focus on the future help keep victimized children engaged in their education (Bausell, 2011). Schools, administrations, and districts that wish to stave off the negative effects of bullying must redouble their efforts to engage each student in school. Typical school engagement strategies include (Karcher, 2005):
• Providing a caring adult for every student through an advisory program or similar arrangement.
o Carefully monitoring attendance, calling home each time a student is absent, and allowing students the ability to make up missed work with support from a teacher.
o Adopting and implementing the National School Climate Standardsfrom the National School Climate Council (2010).
o Promoting and fostering parent and community engagement, including afterschool and summer programs.
o Providing school-based mentorship options for students.http://www.ojjdp.gov/pubs/234205.pdf

See, School Bullying Report Makes Recommendations To Address Issue, Support Victims http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/17/school-bullying-report-ma_n_1155250.html?ref=email_share

The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear the case of Morrow v. The Blackhawk School District.

Mark Walsh reported in the Education Week article, Supreme Court Declines to Take Up School Bullying Case:

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear an appeal seeking to hold a Pennsylvania school district responsible for repeated bullying of a high school student by one of her peers.
A federal appeals court had taken note of school shooting tragedies at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., and at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., as symbols of the new dangers in schools. But it nonetheless held that despite compulsory education laws, the Blackhawk school district in Pennsylvania did not have a “special relationship” with its students that would give rise to a duty to protect them from harm from other students….
The case involves Brittany Morrow, who in early 2008 at Blackhawk High School in Beaver County, Pa., began facing bullying from a schoolmate that included “racially motivated” threats and physical assaults, court papers say. In one incident, the perpetrator attacked Brittany in the lunchroom and because Brittany defended herself, she was suspended along with her attacker.
For that and other incidents, the perpetrator was charged in juvenile court with assault, making terroristic threats, and harassment. She was adjudicated delinquent and ordered to have no contact with Brittany. The perpetrator was nevertheless allowed to return to Blackhawk High. In the fall of 2008, she allegedly boarded Brittany’s school bus and threatened her, and later elbowed her in the face at a high school football game…
They lost before a federal district court and the full 3rd Circuit court.
The appeals court ruled 9-5 for the school defendants that there was no “special relationship” between schools and students and 10-4 that legal injuries to the victims were not the result of actions taken by administrators under a “state-created danger” theory of liability.
In their appeal to the Supreme Court in Morrow v. Balaski (Case No. 13-302), the family said school officials “acted to allow the aggressor to return to school following her temporary suspension and despite court orders mandating no contact. They opened the front door of the school to a person they knew would cause harm to the children.”
In a brief opposing high court review, the school district and the assistant principal argued that there was no conflict among the federal appeals courts about the special relationship theory of liability and that no school official acted affirmatively to increase the dangers to Morrow.
The justices declined without comment to take up the appeal.

Justia.com summarized the case:

Justia.com Opinion Summary: Brittany and Emily Morrow were subjected to threats and physical assaults by Anderson, a fellow student at Blackhawk High School. After Anderson physically attacked Brittany in the lunch room, the school suspended both girls. Brittany’s mother reported Anderson to the police at the recommendation of administration. Anderson was charged with simple assault, terroristic threats, and harassment. Anderson continued to bully Brittany and Emily. A state court placed Anderson on probation and ordered her to have no contact with Brittany. Five months later, Anderson was adjudicated delinquent and was again given a “no contact” order, which was provided to the school. Anderson subsequently boarded Brittany’s school bus and threatened Brittany, even though that bus did not service Anderson’s home. School officials told the Morrows that they could not guarantee their daughters’ safety and advised the Morrows to consider another school. The Morrows filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging violation of their substantive due process rights. The district court dismissed, reasoning that the school did not have a “special relationship” with students that would create a constitutional duty to protect them from other students and that the Morrows’ injury was not the result of any affirmative action by the defendants, under the “state-created danger” doctrine. The Third Circuit affirmed.
The court issued a Revised version of this opinion on June 14, 2013
PDF Download PDF

Click to access 11-2000-2013-06-05.pdf


The American Psychological Association (APA) has information about bullying.

The APA has the following suggestions for teachers and administrators:

Be knowledgeable and observant
Teachers and administrators need to be aware that although bullying generally happens in areas such as the bathroom, playground, crowded hallways, and school buses as well as via cell phones and computers (where supervision is limited or absent), it must be taken seriously. Teachers and administrators should emphasize that telling is not tattling. If a teacher observes bullying in a classroom, he/she needs to immediately intervene to stop it, record the incident and inform the appropriate school administrators so the incident can be investigated. Having a joint meeting with the bullied student and the student who is bullying is not recommended — it is embarrassing and very intimidating for the student that is being bullied.
Involve students and parents
Students and parents need to be a part of the solution and involved in safety teams and antibullying task forces. Students can inform adults about what is really going on and also teach adults about new technologies that kids are using to bully. Parents, teachers, and school administrators can help students engage in positive behavior and teach them skills so that they know how to intervene when bullying occurs. Older students can serve as mentors and inform younger students about safe practices on the Internet.
Set positive expectations about behavior for students and adults
Schools and classrooms must offer students a safe learning environment. Teachers and coaches need to explicitly remind students that bullying is not accepted in school and such behaviors will have consequences. Creating an anti-bullying document and having both the student and the parents/guardians sign and return it to the school office helps students understand the seriousness of bullying. Also, for students who have a hard time adjusting or finding friends, teachers and administrators can facilitate friendships or provide “jobs” for the student to do during lunch and recess so that children do not feel isolated or in danger of becoming targets for bullying. http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/bullying.aspx

Stop Bullying.gov has some great advice about bullying.

According to the Stop Bullying.gov article, What You Can Do:

What to Do If You’re Bullied
There are things you can do if you are being bullied:
Look at the kid bullying you and tell him or her to stop in a calm, clear voice. You can also try to laugh it off. This works best if joking is easy for you. It could catch the kid bullying you off guard.
If speaking up seems too hard or not safe, walk away and stay away. Don’t fight back. Find an adult to stop the bullying on the spot.
There are things you can do to stay safe in the future, too.
Talk to an adult you trust. Don’t keep your feelings inside. Telling someone can help you feel less alone. They can help you make a plan to stop the bullying.
Stay away from places where bullying happens.
Stay near adults and other kids. Most bullying happens when adults aren’t around.

Even though children are encouraged to report bullying, they often don’t.

The Committee for Children explains Why Don’t Kids Report Bullying?

There is good evidence that young people often do not report bullying to adults. Children are adept at hiding bullying-related behaviors and the unequal “shadow” power dynamics that can exist among them. Because of this secrecy, adults underestimate the seriousness and extent of bullying at their schools.
Schools cannot help if children do not entrust them with information. So why don’t children report bullying?
Research Shows That Adults Rarely Intervene
There is a catch-22: Students don’t tell because they don’t see adults helping, but adults can’t help if students don’t tell them what is going on in their peer groups.
The perception that adults don’t act may lead students to conclude that adults don’t care, or that there are different standards for adults’ behavior than for young people’s. In the workplace, shoving co-workers in the hallway would not be tolerated. Yet many adults believe that young people need to “work out” bullying problems like these on their own. This belief may promote a “code of silence” about abusive behavior. A logical consequence would be the failure of students to report other dangers, such as knowledge about a weapon at school.
Students Fear Retaliation and a Reputation as a “Rat”
Fear of retailiation might be especially the case about reporting popular students who bully. There is evidence that well-liked and successful children can be the most skilled at bullying and at escaping detection.
They Don’t Want to Lose Power
Students may not report that they or their friends bully because they don’t want to lose the power they gain through controlling others.
They Don’t Recognize Subtle Bullying
Students may not report more subtle, indirect, and relational types of bullying (such as deliberately excluding peers or spreading rumors) because they don’t realize that these are also unfair, unequal ways to treat others.
They Feel Ashamed, Afraid, or Powerless
Students may not report being victims of bullying because it makes them feel ashamed, afraid, and powerless. Over time, they may come to feel they deserve to be bullied. This may be particularly true of children in fourth grade and up.
Because adults rarely intervene, young people may come to believe they can bully without any consequences. Many believe that “acting bad” pays off. In fact, it may win them status with others, as children do act more friendly and respectful toward those who bully.
What Can Adults Do?
If we want children to talk to us and ask for help, we need to invite them to report. And effective adult follow-through is critical. This means “walking the talk” of bullying prevention, and addressing the power imbalances that put children who bully, those who are bullied, and bystanders at risk of perpetuating abuse. Bringing children who bully and those they bully into the same room to talk is not advisable. Intervening, making plans for behavior change, and continuing to check in on an individual basis with the students involved is best.
Adults can also give young people tools to help them evaluate when and how to report. Teaching about the distinction between reporting (telling to keep someone safe) and tattling (telling to get someone in trouble), for example, can help students make responsible decisions. This, in turn, can empower everyone in schools to help prevent inequity and suffering. http://www.cfchildren.org/advocacy/bullying-prevention/why-kids-dont-report-bullying.aspx

The Tanenbaum Center which honors the work of the late Rabbi Marc Tanenbaum has a really good definition of the “Golden Rule” https://www.tanenbaum.org/resources/golden-rule which is stated in an interview with Joyce Dubensky entitled, The Golden Rule Around the World At the core of all bullying is a failure to recognize another’s humanity and a basic lack of respect for life. At the core of the demand for personal expression and failure to tolerate opinions which are not like one’s own is a self-centeredness which can destroy the very society it claims to want to protect.


Helping Kids Deal With Bullies http://kidshealth.org/parent/emotions/behavior/bullies.html

Teachers Who Bully http://www.webmd.com/parenting/features/teachers-who-bully

Is Your Child Being Bullied? 9 Steps You Can Take as a Parent http://www.empoweringparents.com/Is-Your-Child-Being-Bullied.php#ixzz2PqGTZNdl

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U.S. Supreme Court will not accept cyberbullying case

17 Jan

There are frequent media reports about children and school kids who are the victims of cyberbullying. Occasionally adults become the victims of cyberbullying. Bullying Is Everybody’s Business is a great article by Liz Perle at Common Sense Media.

Cyberbulling Is a Complex System

With the statistics piling up, it has become increasingly clear that the cruelties inflicted by cyberbullying have become a devastating reality for the majority of tweens and teens.

While bullying is nothing new, when it takes place in the digital world, it’s like public humiliation on steroids. Photos, cruel comments, taunts, and threats travel in an instant and can be seen, revisited, reposted, linked to, and shared by a huge audience….

The U.S. Supreme Court has  not agreed to hear the issue of cyberbullying in an education setting.

David G. Savage of the Los Angeles Times has written the article, U.S. Supreme Court takes on cyberbullying which was republished in the Seattle Times.

A middle-school principal in northeastern Pennsylvania was shocked to see his photo online along with a description of him as a “hairy sex addict” and a “pervert” who liked “hitting on students” in his office.

A high-school principal north of Pittsburgh saw a MySpace profile of himself that used an anti-gay slur and called him a “whore” and a drug user. And in West Virginia, a school principal found out that a girl had created an online site to maliciously mock another girl as a “slut” with herpes.

All three students were suspended from school and filed suits against the principal and the school districts. They argued the First Amendment protected them from being punished for postings from their home computers. And in the two Pennsylvania cases, they won.

Now, the U.S. Supreme Court is being asked to decide for the first time on the dividing line between the rights of students to freely use their own computers and the authority of school officials to prevent online harassment of other students and the staff. The court may act as early as Tuesday.

The Internet and social media have wiped out the line between what is public and private as well as the distinction between on-campus and off-campus conduct at schools. A posting on Facebook makes its way around the student body far faster than old-fashioned gossip.

School principals say they are caught between the new technology and outdated, confusing legal rules.

“They need to tell us what we can and cannot do. This affects every educator in this country,” said James McGonigle, principal at Blue Mountain Middle School in Orwigsburg, Pa., near Allentown, who was portrayed as a “hairy sex addict” by an eighth-grade girl.

He imposed a 10-day suspension. A week later, the girl’s parents sued him in federal court.

McGonigle learned of the MySpace profile from students and teachers who said they found it disturbing. He agreed when he saw a photocopy. It included mockeries of his wife and children.

“It made me out as a pedophile. If any of those accusations were taken seriously, I would have been put through a wrenching investigation,” he said in an interview. The American Civil Liberties Union sued on behalf of Terry and Steven Snyder, the girl’s parents. Their lawyers said the fake profile of the principal was “juvenile humor” that should be ignored.

The parents lost before a federal judge, who called the posting “vulgar and lewd.” But last summer, they won before the full 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia. The 8-6 majority said that the posting “caused no substantial disruption” at the school and that the courts did not “allow schools to punish students for off-campus speech.” Doing so, the majority said, threatens “dangerously broad censorship” of students.

If the Supreme Court turns down the appeal in Blue Mountain School District v. Snyder, the district will be required to pay damages to the parents as well as legal fees to the ACLU.


People can be devastated by thoughtless, mean, and unkind comments posted on the web. Some of the comments may be based upon rumor and may even be untrue. The effect on a particular can be devastating. Two recent articles discuss the effects on social networking on teen relationships. In the first article, Antisocial Networking?, Hillary Stout writes in the New York Times about the effects of social networking sites on teens.     

Hans Villarica has an excellent article in Time, Dealing With Cyberbullying: 5 Essential Parenting Tips

Make sure your kids know cyberbullying is wrong. Many kids don’t understand that when they write down and disseminate feelings of frustration, jealousy or anger toward others online, it can quickly escalate into problems in the real world. They also tend to think that what happens digitally “doesn’t count” and that digital abuse doesn’t hurt, especially since parents usually focus on their kids’ behavior in person…. (More on Time.com: Lessons on Cyberbullying: Is Rebecca Black a Victim? Experts Weigh In)

Take an interest in your kids’ online behavior. Kids tend to think their parents don’t know or care about their online lives. They fear that their parents, in not understanding, will simply take away their cell phone or computer if anything goes wrong….. (More on Time.com: The Tricky Politics of Tween Bullying)

Check school policies on cyberbullying. Contact your child’s teacher or a school social worker or administrator and find out whether there is an official policy on cyberbullying. If there is one, read it and discuss it with your kids.

If there isn’t a written policy in place, ask about how cyberbullying is handled and whether there are any plans to create an official policy. Better yet, step up and join — or push to create — a committee to set the standards…. (More on Time.com: Cyberbullying? Homophobia? Tyler Clementi’s Death Highlights Online Lawlessness)

Set guidelines about cell-phone use. Many parents give their kids cell phones, so they can stay in closer contact with them. But that’s typically not the reason kids want cell phones. Rather, kids use them to surf the Web, send text messages to friends, update their social-networking status, and share pictures and videos.

Review with your children the laws that could affect their cell phone use, including limitations on where and when they can legally take photos or videos, and how you expect them to handle text messaging or Internet use. If you choose to monitor what’s on your kids’ phones, be aware that more than 70% of kids delete messages or photos before giving their parents their phones for checks, according to research from the Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center. (More on Time.com: A Glimmer of Hope in a Bad-News Survey About Bullying)

Help your children respond appropriately if they are cyberbullied. First, talk with your children about what happened and how they feel about it. Be supportive. Remember that your kids feel that they are under attack. Second, report the abuse to the website on which it occurred. This can often be done via an “abuse” or “report” button or link on the site. Lastly, report the bullying to school administrators and ask them to look after your children.

Parents must monitor their child’s use of technology.

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