A student committed suicide. Her parents say she was cyberbullied. Now they are suing the school district.

NJ lawsuit school safety

Student safety is priority No. 1 for school leaders.

Students who don’t feel safe don’t learn. That’s one reason why educators across the country have made positive school climate such a central theme of their strategic missions.

But even as administrators ramp up safety measures, the ubiquitous nature of technology, and particularly the widespread use of social media, makes their jobs harder.

The rise of cyberbullying and the emergence of dangerous online “games,” such as the Blue Whale Challenge, offer stark reminders that the definition of a safe school increasingly extends beyond the four walls of the classroom.

As school district leaders look for ways to combat online bullying, the rapid nature of technological change makes it nearly impossible to prevent every tragedy.

When a school district community is forced to confront the unthinkable—a student suicide, for example—the road to recovery is often fraught with challenges, both physical and emotional.

Take the case of Rockaway Township School District in New Jersey, where last week, the family of a 12-year-old girl who committed suicide announced their intent to sue the school district for negligence.

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According to CBS New York, Mallory Grossman killed herself in June after months of being bullied both in school and online. In texts, through Snapchat, and on Instagram, Mallory’s parents claim her peers harassed her and dared her to commit suicide.

In their lawsuit, the Grossmans and their attorney claim that the school district ignored numerous appeals to file harassment, intimidation, and bullying reports. According to New Jersey law, the school is required to file such reports upon request.

According to the Daily Record, Rockaway Township School District has been largely quiet on the case. However, in a statement emailed to parents, Superintendent Greg McGann said the school was committed to keeping students safe:

“The teachers, staff and administrators within the Rockaway Township School District are, as they have always been, and as they will continue to be, committed to protecting the rights and safety for all our students. As our new school year begins in just over a month, our vigilance on behalf of our children and their quality education in our schools, is our primary focus and concern.”

This is not the first time grieving parents have blamed a school district for the injury or the death of a child. But it puts in sharp focus the reality that school districts face when it comes to cyberbullying, or other online safety concerns.

If the recent New Jersey case teaches us anything, it’s the importance of engaging parents and families and keeping them engaged, especially when it comes to issues of student safety. Whether a parent’s concerns rise to the level of a credible threat or not, it’s important for school districts to listen seriously to those concerns and always to follow up.

To stay ahead of new or worsening threats, school district leaders must constantly assess and revise their approach to school and student safety. As former school district superintendent Dr. Gerald Dawkins wrote in a recent blog post:

“When it comes to school safety, there is no such thing as one and done. Circumstances are always changing. Technologies are always changing. Your school safety policy requires constant nurturing. It needs to change in lockstep with the world around it.”

What steps are your schools taking to engage parents and students around important school safety topics? What is your process for assessing and improving your school safety plan? Tell us in the comments.

About the Author

Todd Kominiak
Todd is Managing Editor of TrustED. Email: tkominiak@k12insight.com.

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