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SCHOOL BULLYING – ARE THERE DIFFERENT RULES FOR TEACHERS AND KIDS?

In a decision to be released next week, the Connecticut Appellate Court sided with a sixth grade teacher who had been officially labeled an abuser by an investigator  Department of Children and Families.

Here’s the case in a nutshell:

  •   In the fall of 2008, the parent of a sixth grade student, identified in the decision simply as “K”  complained to school administrators that K’s teacher, Nicholas Frank,  had pinched K’s cheeks and  called K names like “cheeks” and “fish out of water”.
  • The following spring, K’s parent complained that she suspected K’s teacher had lowered K’s grades as retaliation for her earlier charges of bullying.
  • After a brief police investigation and two internal investigations, the Department of Children and Families was asked to investigate the allegations three separate times. The Department twice declined to investigate and finally agreed on the same day The New Haven Register ran a story about the dispute.
  • The school system had meanwhile conducted its own hearing as a result of which the teacher was suspended for 8 business days for “[joking] with students and at times identifying them by nicknames” The teacher was also required to participate in mandatory training and to refrain from similar conduct in the future.
  • DCF then held a hearing after which it was determined that Frank’s behavior had been abusive. The Department’s hearing officer ordered that Frank’s name be placed on a central registry of child abusers.
  • Frank appealed to the Connecticut Superior Court which affirmed the decision of the DCF hearing officer.
  • An appeal followed which resulted in this week’s decision.  In it, the Appellate Court, in a unanimous decision reversed the decision of the trial court and held that Connecticut’s definition of  child abuse, as applied to Frank’s behavior was unconstitutionally vague. The court also specifically declined to consider the case under Connecticut’s anti-bullying statute noting that the legislation was “not meant to regulate teacher-student bullying.”

We believe that this case raises some very important questions:

  • First, is there a difference between physical bullying and “horseplay” ?
  • Is there a meaningful difference between name-calling and nickname-calling where the nickname is imposed rather than chosen?
  • Assuming that Frank’s behavior did constitute bullying that did not rise to the level of abuse, does Connecticut’s current legislative scheme fail to address all but the most egregious teacher-student bullying?
  • What could the Department of Children and Families have done differently in this case?

Please let us know what you think.

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5 Comments on “SCHOOL BULLYING – ARE THERE DIFFERENT RULES FOR TEACHERS AND KIDS?”

  1. Edythe G. Victor says:

    Not every hurt or insult can be, or even should be, addressed by the judicial or legal system. The court system is already stretched too thin. The teacher’s behavior should just have been handled by the principal.

    Abuse statutes are meant to address the most serious and egregious cases, ie. malnutirition, sexual mosestation and the like. It is unfortunate that this case reached this level and that a teacher’s entire life and professional aspirations were jeopardized by something so minor.

    • SG says:

      ”…and that a teacher’s entire life and professional aspirations were jeopardized by something so minor.”
      Unbelievable! This article does not even touch on the abuse that made the parent come forward. The children (notice that is plural) involved in this case are still suffering. The abuse actually started in 2007. 5 years later and the children still haven’t recovered completely. The author of this article barely scraped the surface. Those responsible for overturning this decision are also responsible for the consequences that follow.

  2. Julia W. Kay, Esq. says:

    Unless, of course, you are the adult who still remembers with gut-tightening shame and fear the casual cruelty of the adult-in-power in your schoolroom’s life several decades ago
    .
    We who have stood at the front of a classroom know too well the wretched fact that too many teachers experience classroom management as a totally adversarial experience, not an opportunity to lead and to teach. That kind of “teasing” is a desperate and mean-spirited resort to collusion with the worst inclinations of the youngsters who are learning from what they observe in class. It’s the start of teaching our children to tolerate and accept as, “normal” the routine intimidation and humiliation that is handed-out daily by their coaches, frat-brothers, abusive spouses or partners, supervisors, bosses, owners, landlords, and even social workers. Now that we’re watching the news from Florida about “the volunteer wannabe police officer” and the related commentary from community leaders about the life-threatening risk faced daily by black, teen boys in dialogue with police officers, I think we have the opportunity to examine the “slippery slope” from teaching-by-teasing to dominating by humiliating in the classroom.

  3. Sue Sylvester says:

    ” Connecticut’s current legislative scheme fail to address all but the most egregious teacher-student bullying?” This is correct.

  4. Nancy Miller says:

    Whats more important? That a teacher gets a lecture from the principal and an 8 day gettaway from the a class that she cant tolerate, “which has prompted the bullying and lowered Grade Scores since the incident. And now I wonder how the principal handles his out of line students? To say the least, There will always be a thin blue line on any person handling a situation that has the more power to downplay the resentment and chances are they will win! : (
    but as a parent, I would still remain alert attend all meetings at your child’s school. Use a smart phone or handheld recorder and build a serious case. You should also talk to your kid’s friends to get thier opinion. Kids dont lie about their feelings getting hurt, but knowing what the situtation is about would help out alot. a child may think cheek squeezing is mean after a while bc it shows how often the child is being told they are cute day to day. For instance, one day she may squeeze his cheeks and say “Your cute”, but the next day she may say “its time to be quiet today for tests, and the child may be put in time out to quiet down. What a judge would want to ask the teacher is how often the child has interupted class, this might hold an answer to why the child is angry and why the teacher feels the need to defend himself bc most days they get along well, but the child is at an age that he may feel afraid to tell a teacher that he or she is angry. But of course a child is more apt to open up to his mother or father. Listen to what your child says. Are the words harsh? are the words kind but but the child feels as if it hurts when he squeezed his or her adorable cheeks? As a parent we can be quick to protect and judge others that are in the setting of childcare as well as schools. And if its been 5yrs later is this kid still enrolled at this school? I would enroll my child somewhere different if it didnt get better. Home school if you can. Or maybe a near by school that other parents are talking about and applauding.. : ( Sorry to hear that for your little one. hope things get better and that you find a school to get rid of the problem. Bullying can be found in any setting. Teach your child how to deter a bully too. lol you could put child on the phone with the principal each day they do that or someone that monitors the school as a whole. Find the right listener, keep trying. : )


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