As part of National Bullying Prevention Awareness Month, the U.S. Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) issued guidance to schools reminding them that bullying is wrong and must not be tolerated—including against America’s 6.5 million students with disabilities. The guidance explains how schools must respond when students with disabilities are bullied in order to meet their civil rights obligations under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and Title II of Americans with Disabilities Act. For more information, see the Department of Education website.
The Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) in the Department of Education released guidance for schools on bullying and students with disabilities. Students with disabilities are disproportionately affected by bullying and are more likely to experience lower academic achievement, higher truancy rates, feelings of alienation, poor peer relationships, loneliness, and depression. The guidance reminds school districts that if educational services are denied to a student due to bullying or if the student is removed to a more restrictive, “safer” setting, that student is not receiving a free appropriate public education (FAPE). The guidance also offers effective evidence-based practices for preventing and addressing bullying. The guidance, best practices, and additional materials about bullying are available on the Department of Education website.
The Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) released a 2012 Report to the President and Secretary of Education entitled, “Helping to Ensure Equal Access to Education.” The report covers fiscal years 2009-2012. During that time period, OCR handled 24% more cases than during the preceding 4 year time period. Over half (55%) of the 28,971 complaints OCR handled concerned disability discrimination. OCR reported that almost one-third of school districts reported at least one incident of bullying or harassment based on disability. OCR reported that students with disabilities served by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) were twice as likely to be suspended out of school (13%) than their peers without disabilities (6%).
In addition to investigating complaints of discrimination, OCR also issues guidance for school districts. Since January 2009, OCR has issued four guidance documents that address or include topics related to disability rights: (1) equal access to electronic book readers and other technology for postsecondary students with disabilities; (2) equal access to emerging technologies for all students, including elementary and secondary school students; (3) schools’ obligations to respond to bullying and harassment based on disability; and (4) changes in the meaning of “disability” made by the ADA Amendments Act of 2008.
In a 10-page letter to schools, colleges and universities, Russlynn Ali, Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights at the Department of Education (ED), advised that bullying may violate students’ civil rights. The letter outlined the legal obligations that school staff has to protect students from peer harassment based on race, color, national origin, sex or disability. Secretary Ali reminded schools that Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as well as the Americans with Disabilities Act, prohibit discrimination based on disability status. In August of this year, the Obama Administration hosted the first ever National Bullying Summit and launched the Stop Bulling Now campaign, a national database of effective anti-bullying programs (see: www.bullyinginfo.org). To read a copy of the letter, go to http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/letters/colleague-201010.html