Bullying in Schools

Bullying in school is a significant problem in the education process. It both deprives the victim of a safe environment in the school and an environment that allows the student to learn; students who do not feel safe cannot concentrate on their studies. 

There are two approaches to take when requiring a school to act to protect a student from bullying. The first is that the school has to provide a safe environment, and the school can be responsible for rectifying any harm that comes to a student because the school is not safe. A school can face legal consequences if a student is injured, physically or mentally, because it did not supervise the students or implement its programs in a safe

The second approach is that the environment in the school has impaired the victim student’s ability to learn and benefit from the school’s programs. This can mean that the student then has special needs that the school must accommodate in the manner described under “Special Needs” above on this page. That can involve changing the child’s school, or placement in the school, putting special resources into the school or classroom, or giving the student special privileges or protections. In the videos below, Education Lawyer, John Schuman, discusses a school’s responsibility for its student culture in a story about bullying in an Ontario Private School. (Note the rules are very different for private and public schools in Ontario.) The second video, from CBC Newsnet, discussed what schools can do about bullying and what they are required to do.

One important thing to remember is the educational professionals at the school are the people who have the training, skills, and experience to select or develop programs for students with special needs. The courts and the Human Rights Tribunal will not tell a school that is accommodating an exceptional pupil to change the type of accommodation unless it is absolutely clear, beyond any doubt, that the accommodation provided is not addressing the student’s needs. Parents, guardians, or student advocates, do not get to pick what type of accommodation a student receives, although parents and guardians are certainly entitled to be heard in the Student Identification and Placement process. If a parent disagrees with the way that programming is provided to a student with identified special needs, it is up to the parent to gather the evidence, usually professional assessments, to show what the school is doing is wrong.

There is an appeal process for parents to appeal what the school identifies as the special need, and to appeal the placement, which is what type of classroom the student is in. However, there is no set appeal process to appeal the specific education plans that a school puts in place to teach the child. Getting a school to change the way it is teaching a particular child requires a demonstration that the child is clearly not benefitting from the current plan or that another plan would definitely be better. That is not an easy task.

Sometimes, bullying is the result of the school failing to accommodate a child’s special needs. Children may be treating a child differently or badly, or ostracizing a student because the student is different. Essentially the bullies are discriminating against the student with special needs. Part of accommodating a student with special needs, and giving that child the same benefit of the school experience, is ensuring that the student gets the same “social education” as other students. That may mean taking a school’s focus away from just “academic education” to make sure a victim of bullying goes to school in an environment where he or she can learn. 

The Education Act has specific provisions that apply to publicly funded schools to address bullying and to encourage schools to take a strong stance against bullying. These include implementing strict discipline measures against bullies and creating an environment where there is no tolerance for bullying.

Contact Us

Again, meeting with an education lawyer can help you develop both the approach to take with a school and plans to present to the school to protect a student from bullying. Education Lawyer, John Schuman, was the lawyer on some of the first, and biggest, precedent-setting cases on bullying in schools. You can reach him by phoning the number at the top of this page or using the form.