Bullying and Nevada Law

Although unclear if bullying is a recent phenomenon, or if it has just become more talked about in the public in recent years, is a real problem for kids across Nevada and the country.

The harrowing tragedy of a White Middle School student led to outrage in the Las Vegas Valley over the policies in place to protect kids from bullying by the Clark County School District.

The legislature and the governor, to their credit, stepped up and passed significant legislation in hope of curtailing the widespread bullying across the state.

 

What is Significant in the New Bullying Law?

Governor Sandoval signed Nevada Senate Bill (SB) 504 on 20 May 2015, with the new law going into effect 1 July 2015.

Allow me to quote the Legislative Counsel’s Digest that describes the two most significant elements of the new law:

Section 4 of this bill creates the Office for a Safe and Respectful Learning Environment within the Department of Education. The Office must maintain a 24- 14 hour, toll-free hotline and an Internet website by which a person may report an incident of bullying or cyber-bullying or receive information regarding anti-bullying efforts and organizations. The Office must also provide outreach and anti-bullying education and training

Section 12 of this bill changes requirements regarding the reporting and investigation of an incidence of bullying or cyber-bullying. Under section 12, a principal, or his or her designee, who receives a report of bullying or cyber-bullying must immediately take any necessary action to stop the bullying or cyber-bullying and ensure the safety and well-being of any reported victims. Before the end of that or the next school day, the principal or designee must notify the parents or guardians of every pupil reported to be involved in the bullying or cyber-bullying, as applicable. The principal or designee must interview all of the pupils reported to be involved and the parents or guardians of those pupils, and the investigation must be completed within 48 hours after receiving the report of the bullying or cyber-bullying. After completing the investigation, the principal or designee must complete a written report of the investigation. Subject to applicable federal privacy laws, the report must be made available to the parents or guardians of all the pupils who were reported to be involved in the bullying or cyber-bullying, as applicable.

As stated in the Section 12 summary, the principal of a Nevada school “must immediately take any necessary action to stop bullying” and has 48 hours1)under NRS 388.1351, before SB 504 was signed into law, the principal had ten days to complete the investigation. As you can see, this time period has been significantly shortened to complete an investigation of the incident and to inform the parents of the complaint.

Section 12 also requires the principal to keep written documentation of these incidents.

In addition to the two sections highlighted above, NRS 388.1212)the state statute that declares bullying to be illegal has been amended to disallow bullying based on gender or sexual orientation.

This makes Nevada the 20th state3)the District of Columbia also to include protections against bullying for LBGTQ students.

It is pretty clear from the new law that the state legislature has codified a duty for school district employees to do what is necessary, within reason, to prevent bullying.

If the school district employees do not abide by their duty to protect the kids under their care, civil liability may certainly arise.

But is it possible that the bully’s parent could also be liable for the harm caused?

 

May You Sue the Bully’s Parents?

The answer to this question, like so many issues in law, is unresolved and unclear. Nevada does have a statute that assigns liability of a minor to his or her parent for willful misconduct:

 NRS 41.470  Imposition of liability for minor’s willful misconduct.

      1.  Except as otherwise provided in NRS 424.085, any act of willful misconduct of a minor which results in any injury or death to another person or injury to the private property of another or to public property is imputed to the parents or guardian having custody and control of the minor for all purposes of civil damages, and the parents or guardian having custody or control are jointly and severally liable with the minor for all damages resulting from the willful misconduct.

      2.  The joint and several liability of one or both parents or guardian having custody or control of a minor under this section must not exceed $10,000 for any such act of willful misconduct of the minor.

      3.  The liability imposed by this section is in addition to any other liability imposed by law.

      (Added to NRS by 1957, 8; A 1967, 419; 1975, 652; 1979, 461; 1999, 897)

 

So the question is: will bullying by a school-age child be considered willful misconduct under NRS 41.470? The answer is possibly.

Like so many other tort issues, an answer will likely only be determined based on the specific facts of a bullying case.

Relevant inquiries might be: How old is the bully/victim? What is the character of the bullying? Did the bully’s parents know about the behavior in question, and if they were aware of the behavior, did the parents take actions to prevent the bully from committing further harm? What type of harm did the victim suffer? Etc.

States with similar statutes assigning liability to the parents for a minor’s willful misconduct have construed bullying to be willful misconduct.4)See these articles describing bullying law in Texas and New Jersey for more information

In closing, one should not discount the possibility that the bully’s parents may be included in a bullying lawsuit.

 

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. under NRS 388.1351, before SB 504 was signed into law, the principal had ten days to complete the investigation. As you can see, this time period has been significantly shortened
2. the state statute that declares bullying to be illegal
3. the District of Columbia also
4. See these articles describing bullying law in Texas and New Jersey for more information
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