October is National Bullying Prevention Month – October 23, 2019 is Unity Day

Bullying is an issue that our office deals with routinely. Students with disabilities can become the target of bullying as well as neurotypical students. This is a tough issue and one that doesn’t lend itself to simple solutions. 

Witnessed Bullying?

  • 70.6% of young people say they have seen bullying in their schools.
  • 70.4% of school staff have seen bullying. 62% witnessed bullying two or more times in the last month and 41% witness bullying once a week or more.
  • When bystanders intervene, bullying stops within 10 seconds 57% of the time.

Been Cyberbullied?

  • The 2017 School Crime Supplement (National Center for Education Statistics and Bureau of Justice) indicates that, among students ages 12-18 who reported being bullied at school during the school year, 15% were bullied online or by text.
  • The 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) indicates that an estimated 14.9% of high school students were electronically bullied in the 12 months prior to the survey.

There is a growing awareness of the problem of bullying which may lead some to believe that bullying is increasing. However, studies suggest that rates of bullying may be declining.

What is the best approach to dealing with bullying? According to the National Organization of School Psychologists they recommend the following:

For adults:

  • Model and teach respectful behavior systematically.
  • Develop, implement and enforce anti-bullying policies.
  • Recognize bullying as a mental health and relationship issue.
  • Use a comprehensive approach to address bullying.
  • Teach responsible use of technology.
  • Provide support to students who may be marginalized (e.g. LGBTQ, religious minorities, and students with disabilities).
  • Address bullying with bystanders and stress importance and responsibility to stop harassment and intimidation.

For students:

  • Report instances of bullying to adults.
  • Stand up to bullying in ways that can be done safely.
  • Show kindness to all students.
  • Reach out to students who are being bullied.

The following are taken from the PACER.org National Bullying Prevention Center:

  • Students with disabilities are much more likely to be bullied than their non-disabled peers.
  • Bullying impacts a student’s ability to learn.
  • Bullying based on a student’s disability may be considered harassment.
  • There are legal protections and provisions for students with disabilities who are being harassed.
  • All states have bullying prevention laws and some have disability specific information.
  • The adult response is important.
  • Students with disabilities have resources that are specifically designed for their situation.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a federal law. It requires that each child who has a disability and qualifies for special education and related services must receive a free appropriate public education (FAPE). Each state’s Department of Education enforces IDEA. Students with an Individualized Education Program (IEP) would qualify for these protections.

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (often referred to as “Section 504”) and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (Title II) are the federal laws that apply if harassment denies a student with a disability an equal opportunity to education. The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) enforces Section 504 and Title II of the ADA. Students with a 504 plan or an Individualized Education Program (IEP) would qualify for these protections. 

In October 2014, as part of National Bullying Prevention Month, the U.S. Department of Education’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 Department issued guidance in the form of a letter to educators detailing public schools’ responsibilities under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and Individuals with Disabilities Education Act regarding the bullying of students with disabilities. If a student with a disability is being bullied, these federal laws require schools to take immediate and appropriate action to investigate the issue and, as necessary, take steps to stop the bullying and prevent it from recurring.

The letter further clarified that the bullying of a student with a disability on any basis, not just their disability, may result in a denial of FAPE that must be remedied by the school. Under Section 504, the IEP or 504 team should convene when bullying of a student with a disability occurs on any basis in order to determine whether the student’s needs have changed and whether FAPE is still being provided.

The letter also clarified that when OCR receives a complaint related to bullying of a student with a disability, it may investigate whether there has been a FAPE violation, a disability-based harassment violation, or both, depending on the unique circumstances of the case.

View the 2014 Dear Colleague Letter >>>


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About Micki Moran

Micki Moran is the founding partner of The Child and Family Law Center, Ltd. She dedicates her practice to providing legal assistance to children and families who are in need of representation in the areas of special education, disability law, juvenile and young adult criminal law, abuse and neglect, guardianship, and mental health issues. Micki's practice is founded on the principle that children and their families require and deserve excellent legal representation with a multidisciplinary approach that works with multiple systems of care and creates communities that support and improve the quality of all peoples' lives.
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