Don’t Bully Me (DBM) Project
The Don’t Bully Me Project (DBM) aims to end all forms of bullying by pairing volunteer attorneys with families affected by serious bullying. Where warranted, an attorney may seek injunctive relief, consistent with the civil provision of David’s Law and other laws, to make cyberbullying stop and to give hope where there was none.
The DBM project does not sue schools, administrators, or school districts. Of course, while fully respectful of the latitude that must be present within the attorney’s fiduciary relationship, we encourage attorneys to work with school districts where appropriate to instead facilitate improved environments for all children.
The DBM Project was founded by David’s Legacy Foundation (DLF), which was created by the Molak family after the tragic loss of their son David B. Molak on January 4, 2016. David’s death by suicide occurred after a prolonged struggle with depression and anxiety following months of relentless cyberbullying over social media.
DLF worked hard to support the passage of David’s Law in Texas, which focuses on amendments to the Education Code, Civil Practices and Remedies Code and Penal Code in the context of serious bullying and cyberbullying.
The Education Code has been changed to give more powers to school districts to address bullying (including cyberbullying). David’s Law gives schools the authority to investigate cyberbullying, on and off campus. It allows school districts and law enforcement to collaborate on cyberbullying investigations.
Because of David’s Law “cyberbullying” is now specifically included in the definition of “bullying” in the Education Code. The bullying provisions in the Education Code apply to:
- Bullying that occurs on or is delivered to a school property or to the site of a school sponsored or school-related activity on or off school property;
- Bullying that occurs on a publicly or privately-owned school bus or vehicle being used for transportation of students to or from school or a school-sponsored or school-related activity;
- Cyberbullying that occurs off school property, or outside of a school-sponsored/school-related activity, if the cyberbullying interferes with a student’s educational opportunities or substantially disrupts the orderly operation of a classroom, school or school-sponsored or school-related activity.
David’s Law requires the board of trustees of each school district to have the parental notice procedures under its bullying policy provide for notice of an incident of bullying:
- To a parent or guardian of the alleged victim on or before the third business day after the date the incident is reported; and,
- A parent or guardian of the alleged bully within a reasonable amount of time after the incident
David’s Law included the following clarifications on reporting of bullying incidence:
- Students can anonymously report an incident of any type of bullying, including cyberbullying
- Principal or person designated by principal (other than school counselor) may report certain bullying that rises to the level of being a crime to any school district police department or the police department of the municipality in which the school is located (if no municipal police, can contact county police)
- Employee of an entity that contracts with a district or school to use school property is not required to make a report and may not be designated by principal to make a report
- Strong protections from civil or criminal liabilities and disciplinary actions are given to schools and school personnel who report criminal bullying to law enforcement
The Civil Practice and Remedies Code was amended to provide for a streamlined injunctive relief process to help protect children from cyberbullying.
Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code Amendments
David’s Law creates a new avenue of civil relief for cyberbullying victims who are minors by allowing a cyberbullying victim younger than 18 years of age at the time the cyberbullying occurs (or a parent of or person standing in parental relations to that victim) to seek injunctive relief, such as a temporary restraining order and/or an injunction, against the cyberbully, with some of the requirements normally applicable to injunctive relief being significantly relaxed.
These victims may request that a court issue an injunction against not only the cyberbully, but also against the cyberbully’s parents, requiring those parents to act to stop their child from cyberbullying.
The Penal Code was strengthened to give district attorneys the clear authority they need to prosecute egregious bullying.
Texas Penal Code Amendments
David’s Law changes Section 42.07 of the Penal Code, better known as the Harassment Statute, to more fully and clearly include the modern Internet-based communication tools and methods perpetrators use to cyberbully their victims.
Under the changes made by David’s Law, if a person commits an offense under the cyberbullying provision of the Harassment Statute, it is a Class A misdemeanor (rather than merely a Class B misdemeanor) if:
- The person has previously be convicted under Section 42.07; or
- The offense was committed through electronic communications against a child under 18 years of age with the intent that the child commit suicide or engage in conduct causing serious bodily injury to the child; or
- The person has previously violated a temporary restraining order or injunction issued under the civil provisions of David’s Law.
David’s Law has brought cutting-edge change to Texas jurisprudence and serves as a model for other states. David’s Law will fill a gap and set expectations for online civility within our communities.
How the Project Works
The DBM Project is designed to provide rapid response and injunctive relief options for families facing a bullying nightmare. Volunteer attorneys will investigate, work to remedy, and if necessary, seek a court order to provide immediate relief from bullying. The experience of DBM Project volunteers has been that families by and large prefer to work out these problems than to experience the hassle, embarrassment, public inspection, and potential liability of a court battle.
While the aim of this project is to stop bullying, we cannot ignore that the child perpetrating the bullying is statistically likely to be suffering from a lack of parenting, problems at home, psychological issues, or other social problems. The target of the bullying is the unfortunate victim caught in the crossfire of problems that, usually, have nothing to do with the target.
In short, any action taken should be mindful that we are dealing with (potentially fragile) children. Although our goal remains to stop the bullying, if we can generally improve both sides of the coin (for example, through mediation/restorative justice techniques, and through getting the right psychological help for the perpetrator) while we are at it, so much the better.
Pro Bono Volunteer Attorney Placement and Responsibilities
1. CONDUCT CLIENT INTERVIEW
Volunteers will receive a case assignment after an initial intake interview has been conducted. Volunteers with have an opportunity to review the case overview before contacting the client for the interview.
Client Interview Tips:
- Have on a hand a list of mental health and wellness resources. (Included under the resources tab)
- Do not interview the child alone. Always keep the parent/guardian in the room with you during any interview of or discussion with a minor.
- If a child contacts you directly, ask to speak with an adult, preferably their parent or legal guardian.
- It is important to impress upon families that the retention of an attorney is serious, and that the filing of a lawsuit will result in a hearing, testimony, and evidence in front of a judge. The family must be prepared for all the facts about the situation to be scrutinized.
2. TAKE ACTION ON BEHALF OF CLIENT TO STOP BULLYING
Options Short of Lawsuit
During the interview with the client the volunteer attorney will discuss available options and determine next steps to take in the case. The preference, when reasonable, is to consider less extreme options prior to the filing of a lawsuit.
Often, just the involvement of an attorney is such a major threat as to cause the situation to resolve. We ask our volunteers to keep this in mind and to consider all preliminary possibilities prior to the filing of a lawsuit. Project volunteers have had tremendous success with sending a cease-and-desist letter to the parents of the child perpetrating the bullying behavior. In most cases, this one step may be sufficient to deter the bullying behavior.
(Check out our resources section for sample templates)
Temporary Injunction Hearing
A temporary injunction hearing has the wonderful advantage of being a quick “mini-trial” of the issues in the case. When there is no other solution, the temporary injunction hearing should be an advantage taken to resolve matters as quickly as possible in favor of a suffering young person.
If enough background work is done, the family should be able to identify key disinterested witnesses such as teachers, principals, other parents, parents of the offender, friends, psychologists, digital forensic experts, counselors, classmates, and law enforcement who will be able to testify about the situation. Keep in mind that the judge needs to be provided with sufficient information to craft an order to preserve the peace. In addition, the hearing can be an opportunity to impress upon the child who is bullying the seriousness of his or her actions.
The ability of the trial judge to craft orders that are entirely unique to each situation are a real secret to the healing that a court can provide to children who are suffering at the hands of a tormentor. This should be impressed repeatedly on the trial judge. We suggest that a brief hearing outline be provided to the judge at the onset of the hearing.
(Check out our resources section for sample templates)
- David’s Law – Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code §129A
- Definition of Bullying – Tex. Education Code §37.0832
- Texas Rules of Civil Procedure – Injunctions
- Tex. Pen. Code §43.261 – Electronic Transmission of Certain Visual Material Depicting Minor
- Tex. Pen. Code §33.07 – Online Impersonation
- Tex. Pen. Code §42.07 – Harassment
- Tex. Pen. Code §21.15 – Invasive Visual Recording
- Cease and Desist Letter
- Petition for Injunctive Relief
- Temporary Restraining Order
- Motion to Extend TRO
- Order to Extend TRO
- Temporary Injunction
OTHER HELPFUL DOCUMENTS
- David’s Law 1-Pager (English) (Spanish)
- Bullying Checklist for Schools & Applying the TXSSC’s Bullying Checklist for Schools
- Cyberbullying Pro Se Litigant Instruction Packet
CLIENT MENTAL HEALTH RESOURCE LISTS
- San Antonio Resource List
- El Paso Resource List
- Dallas Resource List
- Houston Resource List
- David’s Legacy Foundation: http://www.davidslegacy.org/