Oliver’s Blog

Man on the Run


January 29, 2017

BULLYING IN SCHOOLS

Biff Tannen in Back to the Future. Regina George as one of the Mean Girls. Johnny Lawrence threatening The Karate Kid. All of these well-known characters are universally disliked for the one characteristic they have in common…they are all bullies. While bullying in these films was necessary for plot development, it is not ever needed in real life. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), 20.1% of the representative sample of teenagers surveyed in grades 9 – 12 reported being bullied within the past year. A few of these incidents have escalated far past the bullies in movies and have resulted in deaths, making this issue a serious one. As such, laws have been established in the past few years to address the issue.

WHAT IS BULLYING?

CDC defines bullying as “any unwanted aggressive behavior(s) by another youth or group of youths, who are not siblings or current dating partners, involving an observed or perceived power imbalance and is repeated multiple times or is highly likely to be repeated”. This can be through making threats, spreading rumors, exclusion, or physical attacks. These behaviors typically cause physical, emotional, or social stress and/or harm to the victim.

Cyberbullying takes bullying into an electronic platform including text messages, emails, websites, and social apps. Mean pictures, videos, fake profiles, and rumors can spread through these venues. Cyberbullying makes escape from the bullying situation more difficult as the victim can be attacked at any time they are electronically connected. It is different from typical bullying as messages can be posted anonymously; as with adult situations, people will often speak in a harsher manner online than in person.

WHAT DO THE LAWS SAY?

Similar to many other issues, there is no federal law governing bulling. If, however, the bullying is focused on the victim’s race, color, national origin, sex, a disability, religion, or sexual orientation, federal law, beginning with the Civil Rights Act of 1968 and with many case laws following, would be applicable and could be used for prosecution.

All states have various laws that have been applied to bullying, including assault and harassment statues. All states except Montana have laws that mandate each school to develop and enforce policies surrounding bullying. In addition to discussing the disciplinary responses, these laws also help identify bullying behavior.

IF YOU ARE INVOLVED IN BULLYING

As a school, be sure your lawyers consult with state and local officials to ensure all laws are being followed. There is also assistance for developing policies included in a technical memo from Secretary Duncan (https://www2.ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/secletter/101215.html). For everyone’s health and safety, prevention is by far the best method to follow. Schools are encouraged to build safe environments through education and engagement of parents and students on the issue.

As a parent, do not delay in getting your child help if you think they may be the victim of bullying. First and foremost, ensure your child’s safety, both physically and emotionally. Contact the school to report the incidents and work with the officials and counselors to develop a prevention and monitoring plan. If the school is not cooperative, ask to see their policies or contact the school district governing the school. Know that law obligates schools to protect students from bullying. If no resolution can be found, there are attorneys that will assist your case.

January 18, 2017

ROLE OF MEDIATOR IN FAMILY COURT

If you’ve ever argued with family members or significant others, the argument can sometimes devolve past what is healthy and productive in pursuit of being right. Or the personal relationship can stand in the way of finding a helpful compromise in the argument. Mediation can be a useful tool in both of these situations. If the parties will still need to maintain a relationship past a court settlement, mediation can help find a practical solution to an issue. Family court, especially involving children, is one of the sticky situations that mediation can be helpful in.

WHAT IS A MEDIATOR?

MEDIATORIn short, a mediator is someone who will assist parties to find an agreement suitable for both sides. Discussions including the mediator are confidential and not admissible to court in most states. This aspect allows the parties to talk freely and think more towards a practical solution, rather than defending themselves from statements or going on the offensive to prove the other party wrong.

Often, mediators have legal or mental health backgrounds as their professional training. Mediators should be neutral in their evaluation and resolution of your case. They do not judge whether the case could stand up in court; rather, they are solution oriented.

Advantages to using a mediator include the cost of mediating which can range from a few hundred dollar to several thousand, which are both less than those that would arise from a lawsuit. In most cases, judges will order the parties to mediate before bringing the case to trial.

WHAT TO EXPECT IN MEDIATION?

Mediation will only be successful if both parties are willing to work towards reaching an agreement. Mediators will continue to work with parties until a settlement can be reached or until they determine that a settlement is not possible.

Mediators can do this through many different methods, but they will largely play roles that encourage communication between the two parties. They can educate both sides as to resolution options to be considered and advise on the process. Translation of messages and feelings from one party to another, clarification of meanings and intent, and helping each side to be fully heard by the other are all parts of encouraging communication.

Mediators will point out both the strengths and weaknesses in what you are bringing to mediation. They will also be doing this with the other party. Coming to an agreement through negotiation is a process; do not be surprised if the first offers from the other party are quite a bit away from what you were hoping to settle on.

Lawyers can still be part of the mediation process. While you are looking for answers that would be a compromise, attorneys can help to advise whether your potential settlement would harm you in any way.

If the case does not settle through mediation, it is not all wasted effort. You will have learned some of what the other party was thinking, what they are hoping for in terms of settling, and areas they are willing to negotiate. Going through mediation does not forfeit your rights to a trial and that can still be a viable option.

January 04, 2017

PRAYER AND PUBLIC SPACES

America’s founding fathers greatly valued freedom of religion and strove to protect those whose religion was different than the majority. In developing a framework as to how this would be done, they used the concept of separation of church and state. In Thomas Jefferson’s letter to a Baptist Association, he explained the concept as such:

“Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church and State.” (Jefferson, Thomas (1802-01-01). “Jefferson’s Letter to the Danbury Baptists”. U.S. Library of Congress. Retrieved 2006-11-31)

The way to protect individual freedoms, just like installing home alarms, was to also protect government from the influences of religion. There are, however, many places where Christian religion has been on prominent display – from statues on government property to praying before government meetings…so what gives? How does this show separation of church and state?

WHAT THE LAW SAYS?

PRAYER IN PUBLIC SPACESThe First Amendment to the Constitution establishes the relationship between religion and government. In it, government is prevented from establishing a national religion and is limited in participation in religious activity. The Supreme Court has made numerous rulings requiring public officials to be neutral in their treatment and for schools to not show favoritism, hostility, or sponsorship of one religion over another. At the same time, however, a school or government entity also has the responsibility to protect religious activity that is stated by an individual. A quick summary of the application would say that while a government representative may not lead religious activities (prayer, scripture readings, etc.), compel others to participate, or encourage one religion over another, they also may not stop someone from starting a religious activity.

APPLYING LAWS

Looking at this in terms of a public education facility, individuals, including students and teachers, are permitted to participate in religious sacraments during non instructional or break times. Similarly, religious groups or clubs before or after school/work, but on government property, are permissible.

Some public institutions have used ‘moments of silence’ in place of prayer in response to grave situations. These are also protected as long as individuals are not encouraged or discouraged from prayer during the time.

In summary, neutral stances on religious issues are by far the safest routes to take. If specific contexts are being considered, it would be worthwhile to consult the institution’s attorney. For instance, how to handle the accommodation of religious obligations can be tricky. In Islam, prayer is required at certain times of day, wherever the follower may be. This could potentially include work, school, or public spaces. As it is the government’s duty to protect religious freedom, but also to not favor one religion over another, how to work with the individual should be fair and balanced. Other situations can include public prayer at significant events such as institutional ceremonies. An attorney can help to navigate the laws and cases that have occurred and help to make sure the event is framed correctly to protect the separation between church and state.