The school-age years of a child’s development are a fundamental stage when the child’s personality and interests take shape, and the groundwork for their future is laid. Unfortunately for many young people, this age is also when the lasting trauma of bullying and harassment is forced upon them by their peers. Schools have a duty of care to provide a safe and healthy 0learning environment for the children who are legally required to attend them, but historically, many public schools across the country have been terrible at handling bullying behaviors. Too many children have had their pleas for help brushed off with, “Just don’t react and they’ll lose interest in you,” or worse, “What did you do to make them act that way?” When the adults who are supposed to protect and guide children cannot or will not address the problem of bullying, tragedy has a clear path to strike. According to the CDC, suicide is the second leading cause of death for children aged 10 to 14.

Problem of bullyingIn June of 2017, that tragedy hit home for the Grossman family of Rockaway, NJ, when 12-year-old Mallory Grossman was driven to suicide after an eight-month-long campaign of bullying and harassment conducted by four of Mallory’s schoolmates. In addition to the “harassment, name-calling, and exclusion” Mallory faced at school (as described by her mother Diane), the torment followed Mallory home via Snapchat and Instagram as the bullies took to these social media platforms and text messaging to continue their harassment. Diane Grossman sought help from the school repeatedly, contacting school officials on a monthly basis – including the morning before her daughter died. Needless to say, the response by the school district to Grossman’s complaints was wholly inadequate, leaving Mallory vulnerable to continued abuse.

In the wake of her death, parents Diane and Seth Grossman turned to their attorney Bruce Nagel to file a wrongful death suit against the Rockaway Township Board of Education for its “gross negligence” in addressing the matter of the bullying and harassment targeting their daughter. The lawsuit was part of a larger effort to protect New Jersey students from bullying; the Grossmans also pushed for strong anti-bullying legislation to pass through the New Jersey Legislature, and in 2022 Governor Murphy signed “Mallory’s Law,” designed to formalize and strengthen anti-bullying policies in schools. In addition, the Grossmans established the Mallory’s Army Foundation, a non-profit group with the mission of fighting bullying through education.

The Grossmans’ legislative and non-profit efforts will undoubtedly make a significant impact on the safety of New Jersey students now and in the future, but sometimes it takes a lawsuit to drive home the cost of an institution’s failure to meet its responsibilities. In this case, the district won’t soon forget the price of its reluctance to protect Mallory, as a settlement was reached with the Grossman family in the sum of $9.1 million, the largest settlement of a bullying case in New Jersey history.

The 2022 legislative measure nicknamed “Mallory’s Law,” was another significant victory for the Grossmans, Mallory’s Army, and victims of bullying and harassment in New Jersey schools. The new law expanded the state’s Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights, required that individual districts’ anti-bullying policies must include specific consequences for the harassment, bullying, or intimidation of fellow students, and imposes higher fines on parents who refuse to comply with court-ordered anti-bullying classes for their children. These fines have risen with the new legislation to a range of $100 to $500, where previous fines ranged from $25 to $100.

Under the new law, parents can now submit “tickets” to report that their child is being bullied or harassed by other students, and these trackable records open investigations that require school officials to respond within a set span of time. Parents and school officials at the local, county, and state level receive notifications as soon as a complaint ticket has been submitted. One benefit of this new system is that it creates a trackable paper trail that demonstrates when (and how often) school officials are informed about bullying and harassment incidents, so that in tragic cases like Mallory’s, any failure to act on the part of the school system is easier to prove with dated records. Hopefully this clear trail of evidence will encourage school officials to take more decisive action to protect the children under their care.

It can be easy for some adults to lose sight of how vulnerable children are, especially at middle-school age, to social isolation, verbal abuse, and harassment, both at school and online through social media. However, when children are required to go to school, it’s the responsibility of the adults who control that school environment to ensure that it is a safe space for those children to exist, grow, and learn. The cost of failing in that duty is too high to risk. Mallory’s mother, Diane Grossman, referred to bullying as “the epidemic that is stealing our children’s future.” One can hope that with the precedent set by the Grossman’s lawsuit, the mandates laid out in Mallory’s Law, and with the work of Mallory’s Army, the future of New Jersey’s children will be a little safer and brighter.

Contact MyNJInjuryLawyer Howard P. Lesnik

If you or a loved one suffered an injury in an accident in NJ, you should contact an attorney familiar with handling these claims. An experienced NJ Injury Lawyer will know how to obtain medical records, videos, photographs, experts, locate witnesses and contact the insurance company so you can make a claim for your injuries.

My NJ Injury Lawyer Howard P. Lesnik, Esq. offers complimentary strategy sessions to address any issue or questions you may have for your injury claim in NJ.

Please contact NJ Injury Lawyer Howard Lesnik, Esq., immediately if you were involved in an accident. I personally handle NJ personal injury cases on a regular basis. Please contact me now by email, by phoning 908.264.7701, or by completing the form to the right to schedule your complimentary 30-minute strategy session. Call me direct and I will answer 5 questions that you have about your potential claim.