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Bullying Not Just a Problem Among Students Anymore

In an opinion by the Honorable Superior Court Judge Henry S. Cohn, the Connecticut Superior Court dismissed the appeal of a teacher whose name was placed on the child abuse and neglect registry after a Department of Children and Families (“DCF”) hearing officer determined, pursuant to Conn. Gen. Stat. § 17a-101g (b), that the teacher had emotionally neglected a student/child and ordered the teacher’s name to be included on the registry. In applying the standards of the State Uniform Administrative Procedure Act, the Court held that DCF’s finding was supported by the substantial evidence in the record, where the evidence showed that a twelve year old male student of the fifth grade teacher reported that he was embarrassed in front of his peers when the teacher called him names, including “cheeks,” “birthing mother,” and “fish out of water,” to connote that he was overweight. The student also claimed that the teacher restricted him to asking no more than ten questions per day, a restriction he failed to place upon other students. If the student asked more than ten questions per day, the teacher would either give the student a detention, or pinch the student’s cheeks. As a result of the teacher’s conduct, the student reported that he was often embarrassed in front of peers, that his academic work was suffering, and that he had difficulty sleeping at night. The student’s mother called the issue to the attention of school administrators, who responded by suspending the teacher for a period of eight days.

The issue was reported to DCF, which then conducted an investigation pursuant to Conn. Gen. Stat. § 17a-101g (b), which requires it to determine whether a child has been abused or neglected, whether an identifiable person was responsible for any found abuse or neglect, and whether a hearing officer should, as a result, add the individual’s name to the child abuse and neglect registry. The hearing officer found that the student began to fear school and that his grades slipped substantially.

DCF’s finding, and the Superior Court’s dismissal of the teacher’s appeal, make clear that bullying comes in many forms, and is not just an issue between and among students. School districts should set forth clear anti-harassment policies for faculty and should investigate and address student and parent complaints immediately.