I’m certain school anti-bullying activists were overjoyed by recent news that parents in Tampa, Florida were awarded a $4 million (!!!) judgment against the Hillel School because the school failed to stop their son from being bullied. I feel very badly for the boy, whose arm was broken and may have some permanent impairment. But if this legal trend continues, before long we will all be home-schooling our children because no school will be able to afford to stay open. Perhaps then parents will be sued for millions of dollars for failing to stop their children from bullying each other at home.
Consider the following imaginary scenarios.
A judge rules that a cardiologist has to pay the family of a patient $10 million because the patient had another heart attack and died. “But judge,” said the doctor, “I followed all the ‘best practices.’ No cardiologist in the world can prevent all their patients from dying from a heart attack.” “Tough luck,” answered the judge. “You are the cardiologist, and the patient put his life in your hands. He died while under your care, so you are accountable and have to pay. Case closed.”
A court rules that the local police station must pay a rape victim $3 million because the police failed to prevent the rape. “But no police station can prevent all crime. We did good detective work and have apprehended the rapist, who is now behind bars. Why don’t you make the rapist pay?” asked the Chief of Police. “Tough luck,” said the judge. “The police are hired to protect the population from crime. You failed to prevent the rape, so you must pay the victim. Case closed.”
A judge rules that a school has to pay the parents of a student $2 million because the child’s math and reading scores were below grade level. “But,” cried the District Superintendent, “no school can guarantee that all children are at grade level.” “Stop talking back to me,” said the judge. “The school’s job is to educate children and make sure that No Child is Left Behind. This student is way behind, so keep you mouth shut and pay up. Case closed.”
Sounds crazy? Well, if you can explain to me how these fictional scenarios are any different from the Hillel School having to pay $4 million for failing to stop a student from being bullied, I’d love to hear it. Please don’t tell me that the school did absolutely nothing while this “bully” was tormenting students. Of course the school tried to stop the bullying, but their efforts probably made the bullying worse, as most anti-bullying intervention does. As you can read in an earlier newsletter article, research published in the School Psychology Review has shown that the great majority of whole-school anti-bullying programs produced either no benefit or made the problem worse.
And if you work in a school that has succeeded in getting rid of all bullying, I’d love to hear about that, too. We’ll send the info to Ripley’s Believe it Or Not!
If you run a school, I have a great idea for you: when the anti-bullying program you’re using fails to stop kids from being bullied–which, of course, is inevitable–sue the creators of the program. Then you’ll have money to pay the parents who sue you for failing to stop their children from being bullied.
If not stopped, this legal anti-bullying bulldozer will make society fall apart. But…. what the heck. In the meantime it’ll be great for the lawyers, who earn good money whichever side they represent. And maybe we’ll be forced to start over and create a saner society to replace our crazy one.