At TorkLaw, we support civil and peaceful resolution to conflicts and differences. As personal injury attorneys, we see enough pain and suffering to know that the world is always better off when people choose to be kind.
That is why we support No Name-Calling Week, a campaign launched in 2004, with a goal to end name-calling and bullying in K-12 schools.
What Is No Name-Calling Week?
In 1990, a group of Massachusetts teachers joined together to ensure schools were safe and affirming places for students who were lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning (LGBTQ). Since that time, this group, known as GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, pronounced “glisten”) has become the leading national education organization focused on that goal.
Studies show that over 87% of LGBTQ students experience harassment or assault, mostly based on sexual orientation or gender expression, but also on gender, religion, race and ethnicity, and disability. The more hostile the environment, the more negative the impact is on their mental health and educational outcomes.
No Name-Calling Week was inspired by the popular young adult novel The Misfits, by James Howe, published by Simon and Schuster in 2001. The book told the story of four seventh-grade best friends trying to survive the almost constant insults from classmates about their height, weight, intellect, and sexual orientation/gender expression. During student council elections, these friends start a new political party with a platform aimed at ending name-calling in their school. They win their school principal’s support, and initiate a “No Name-Calling Day” at school.
Based on this idea, GLSEN and Simon & Schuster launched No Name-Calling Week. While focusing on LGBTQ students, the event also recognizes students with disabilities, students of color, and those of all shapes, sizes, races, religions, and economic backgrounds who are frequent victims of bullying and harassment.
When is No Name-Calling Week?
No Name-Calling Week typically occurs around the fourth week of January. In 2019, that’s January 21-29. Fittingly, the first day is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, to honor a man whose legacy was built on fair treatment and nonviolence.
In recent years, there has been an adult backlash to anti-bullying programs. GLSEN’s anti-bullying efforts are sometimes opposed by groups who see their work as promoting a “homosexual agenda” and seek to exempt bullying behavior done out of “religious conviction.” However, most educators support efforts to make schools safe for all students. One school superintendent who faced objections to No Name-Calling Week said, “We’re not sure why it matters who came up with the good idea. We don’t want to forgo a quality opportunity because of this feeling that this organization is promoting something other than safe schools.”
Other detractors have insisted that peer conflict is normal and necessary for young people’s social development; that such efforts teach children to be too thin-skinned. Supporters argue that it’s better to provide guidance to help instruct children in more productive ways to communicate, rather than tacitly condoning hurtful behavior.
In fact, studies show that, rather than making one “thick-skinned,” bullying has long-term negative psychological effects for both bullies and victims, and even for those who witness it, while happy, successful children are taught to have empathy for others. No Name-Calling Week is one tool GLSEN provides to do just that, with lesson plans, resources, tools and inspiration to help students understand the impact of their words, and encourage students to take a stand against bullying.
Effects of Bullying and Harassment
Too often, name-calling is only the beginning of a pattern that leads to bullying and results in physical injury and even death. An eighth-grader at Palos Verdes Intermediate School required hospitalization and six stitches for a cut on his head after being attacked by bullies. A tenth-grade student in New York also required stitches to her face after an attack by bullies in her high school cafeteria. Parents of both students are suing the school districts. Stories of children being driven to suicide as a result of bullying and harassment are becoming frighteningly frequent. A recent report from the World Health Organization revealed that teens who are victimized by bullying and other types of abuse are more likely to self-harm or commit suicide, two major causes of death among young people worldwide.
Bullying does not just impact the children who are bullied. It creates an incredible amount of stress on parents and families of bullied children. It can also result in legal action against parents of children who are bullying others, as well as teachers and school administrators who know about bullying and don’t respond adequately.
Legal Recourse for Bullying and Harassment
Legally, schools are required to take steps toward preventing or at least reducing bullying, and to stop bullying when they know it is occurring. Most schools, including the schools mentioned in the news stories above, have a “zero tolerance” policy for bullying, and may also engage in anti-bullying activities – however, this is often not enough.
Parents who suspect their children are being bullied must become their advocates. And schools, teachers, administrators and parents may be legally liable for damages caused by bullying if they knew it was happening and did not take reasonable steps to stop the behavior.
Below are possible warnings signs that your child is being bullied:
- Frequently has unexplained bumps, bruises, or cuts
- Suddenly exhibits physical ailments such as headaches, backaches, or stomachaches
- Often appears sad, depressed or has low self-esteem
- Is often alone, and has few friends
- Dreads going to school, and often asks to stay home
- Exhibits changes in appetite
- Can’t sleep or has frequent nightmares
What You Can Do
If your child is being bullied, you can take the following actions:
- Listen. Talk with your child every day after school; ask open-ended questions; probe gently and ask for clarification. Be attentive and attuned to your child’s feelings.
- Talk to the school. Talk to your child’s teacher. If you are not satisfied with the response, or if the situation doesn’t improve, escalate the matter to the principal.
- Speak to your child’s guidance counselor, if s/he has one. Ask whether the school has a contact person trained to deal with bullying and, if so, set up a meeting with them and your child.
- Document everything. Keep detailed notes of bullying incidents, including names, dates, and what happened, including names of witnesses. Take pictures of physical issues such as cuts and bruises. Keep documents of medical records. Keep notes of all contact with the school, including dates, who you spoke to and what they told you.
- Look up the school’s code of conduct to ensure the school is following it. If not, note this in your interactions and communications with the school and the district.
- File a complaint. If your conversations with the principal have not yielded positive action, file a written complaint with the school district; this may be required in your state before filing a lawsuit. In your complaint, include documentation of all your contact with the teachers, counselors, principal, etc.
- Contact an attorney, If the issue continues despite all your efforts with the school, a lawyer specializing in bullying and harassment cases can step in to pursue legal action against schools and/or parents who are not responding appropriately. Often, this is enough to prompt more deliberate action.
While most states have criminal laws against bullying and harassment, it may be unclear how this would be handled in a civil case. You may need to bring a tort claim, which means that you will need to show that your child suffered harm; that bullying was the proximate cause of the injury or damage; and that the school, teacher or parent knew about the issue (thus the importance of documentation and filing a formal complaint). A lawyer’s help can be invaluable.
No Name-Calling Week Goals
Name calling is a tactic often used by children who have not yet learned about the impact their words can have on others. Sadly, bullying and name-calling is not just a childhood issue. Too often, adults exhibit demeaning and unkind words and actions on social media, on the streets, and in the political arena. In today’s social atmosphere, perhaps No Name-Calling Week should be extended to grown-ups as well.
If you’d like to participate in No Name-Calling Week, here are some suggested goals:
- Avoid name-calling, or using language that is demeaning to others.
- Practice empathy. Be sensitive to the thoughts, feelings and experiences of others. Be curious rather than judging or labeling them.
- Engage in civil discourse. Speak from your experience, rather than making assumptions about others’ lives.
- Intervene when you hear or see people demeaning, bullying or harassing someone else. Let them know hostility is unnecessary and not appreciated.
- Be kind to others. Practice random acts of kindness.
The Department of Health and Human Services has also created StopBullying.gov, a website for parents, education professionals, and other adults to prevent bullying in their communities.
At TorkLaw, we are committed to seeing our schools, workplaces and wider community be safe and affirming, regardless of race, gender, religion, ability, sexual identity, or background. While we typically don’t handle bullying cases, we do take cases in which a child has been injured at school due to negligence on the school’s part.
We are committed to ensuring that those who harm others are held accountable for their actions. If you or someone you love has been harmed by the actions of another, TorkLaw can help. Call us today for a free, no-obligation consultation.