Bullying: my child is being bullied at school, what can I do?

With the school year already in its early stages, it’s important to consider that each year, instead of seeing returning to class with their peers as cause for joy, many children see it as the beginning or continuation of a true ordeal. Unfortunately, bullying (also known as “cyberbullying” in its digital form), is a reality in our country that can even lead to the child’s death in extreme cases. It is a problem that is growing year after year, with school authorities and teachers unable to put a stop to it.

The most recent data published by the Spanish Ministry of Education indicates that this scourge affects 4% of students, a figure that is expected to increase. For this reason, one of the actions the ministry has implemented during the 2016-2017 school year is a free phone number staffed by psychologists which leaves no phone record, similar to the one being used to combat gender violence. Many schools have action plans (which depend on each autonomous community) to combat bullying. However, critics point out that first, these plans are insufficient, and second, that school inspections aren’t sufficiently socially aware, nor are staff trained to give a problem as serious as the one we are facing the attention it deserves, generally due to a lack of resources because of budget cuts. For their part, experts agree with going beyond action plans, stressing the importance of introducing active prevention in schools in order to effectively eradicate bullying.

What steps should be taken from a legal perspective?

If, despite preventive measures, a child is being bullied, schools and institutions must act immediately in order to achieve effective protective measures or corrective measures for the bully, in the interest of the main objective, which is the child’s protection.

In this respect, it is necessary to analyze the steps that should be taken in order to address the problem from a legal perspective. There are many parents who don’t quite know how to act in this situation, and find themselves completely overwhelmed by their child’s emotional situation as well as legal technicalities.

Once the problem has been identified, it is essential to consult primary care services so that the child can be examined by a doctor and receive the psychological help needed, as well as to gather all the evidence which may be available (names of witnesses, social media posts, messages on instant messaging apps, medical reports proving injuries, expert psychological reports, etc.).

It is extremely important to collect evidence proving the existence of the bullying, and to identify those who are doing it. In this regard, it must be stressed that social media and instant messaging are becoming very useful from a legal perspective: bullies leave a written record of their harassment.

Regarding the school, you must file a written complaint with the school so that they begin to investigate the facts and the anti-bullying action plan is activated.

At this point, it is worth recalling that all schools are required to implement an anti-bullying action plan, allowing them to establish measures to protect the bullied child while conducting an investigation, thus preventing further harassment from occurring. However, if the school ignores the complaint, it could incur civil liability and the parents could claim compensation for its lack of action and protection, pursuant to article 1903 of the Spanish Civil Code.

If the school refuses to act, it is necessary to file a complaint with the Inspectorate of Education. If its response is also negative, the next step is to file a criminal complaint in order to make the Office of the Public Prosecutor for Minors aware of the situation, so that the corresponding criminal and civil liabilities faced by the bully/bullies can be determined.

Bullying entails a series of criminal and/or civil liabilities for the bullies, and if they are minors, their legal representatives (parents or legal guardians) are held responsible, in accordance with article 1903 of the Civil Code. Bullies may be committing a crime of threats or injuries, which entail criminal liability, as well as civil liability by way of compensation for the moral and/or physical damage they have inflicted on the victim.

With the criminal complaint, the Office of the Public Prosecutor for Minors may even establish protective measures appropriate for the safety of the bullied child, which must be approved by the relevant Juvenile Court.

At ICN LEGAL, we believe that protecting children when they are in a vulnerable situation is and must be a top priority, and as lawyers, we know how to take the legal steps to demand such protection. Bullying affects not only the victim, but also their parents, relatives, friends, teachers, etc.

It is everyone’s responsibility to confront this scourge in order to avoid lasting effects (and even more dire consequences), not only in terms of the child’s daily reality, but also for the future.