More and more stories of bullying are being reported in the news. Parents often ask us what should they do if their children are being bullied in school and school officials have not taken appropriate action to resolve the problem. What is worse is when the bullying continues frequently and the school has not addressed the problem in an acceptable way. In this situation, parents should write a “Gebser Letter” to the school as soon as possible.
The Gebser Letter is named after a 1998 Supreme Court decision called Gebser v. Lago Vista School District. In that case, the Supreme Court held that parents must prove that their school actually knew about bullying and refused to address the problem, otherwise parents cannot recover damages in a court case for the bullying. A Gebser Letter notifies the school about the bullying, thus preventing the school from claiming that it was unaware of the bullying.
It is recommended that you have an attorney assist you in drafting a Gebser Letter. The letter should:
- Be addressed to a specific school official who has authority to make decisions or to do something about the bullying. A good example is the principal of the school.
- Include a statement of the bullying your child has experienced at school, including dates, times, the people involved, location, and any injuries your child has suffered.
- Note that the bullying is not just a single occurrence but that it is severe and pervasive.
- Note that the school has control over the location of the bullying and any school staff involved.
- Describe how the bullying has excluded your child from fully participating in school.
- Explain how you want the school to address the situation.
- Note that the school district receives federal funds.
- Request a copy of the school district’s grievance procedure under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.
- Note that if the school does not investigate the situation and take immediate action, you may take legal action.
- Set a deadline for when you expect to hear back from the school.