The Office For Civil Rights division of the United States Department of Education wrote a colleague letter today about the rapid increase of bullying against students with disabilities. The department has seen a huge rise in bullying reports since 2009 according to a report by Disability Scoop. Even though they have written letters about this issue to US schools in the past, this new one gives more detail about what constitutes bullying against students with disabilities.
One part even suggests that even if a report rules that bullying did “not create a hostile environment” the school is still obligated to determine if a free and public education (FAPE) was violated under Section 504 and IDEA guidelines.
“When a student who receives IDEA FAPE services of Section 504 FAPE services has experienced bullying resulting in a disability-based harassment violation, however, there is a strong likelihood that the student was denied FAPE. This is because when bullying is sufficiently serious to create a hostile environment and the school fails to respond appropriately, there is a strong likelihood both that the effects of the bullying included an impact on the student’s receipt of FAPE and that the school’s failure to remedy the effects of the bullying included it’s failure to address those FAPE-related concerns.
This ruling by the OCR also indicates a significant shift in how IEP or 504 teams must handle bullying issues.
“If the school suspects the student’s needs have changed, the IEP team or the Section 504 team must determine the extent to which additional or different services are provided, ensure that any needed changes are made promptly, and safeguard against putting the onus on the student with the disability to avoid or handle the bullying.”
This means that a response to bullying on a school’s part cannot be isolating a student away from situations or peers where bullying can occur. The letter reminds schools they need to be vigilant in regards to preventing any type of bullying, whether it is disability discrimination or not.
It gives three examples of the following classifications: 1) Disability-Based Harassment Violation and FAPE Violation, 2) FAPE Violation, No Disability-Based Violation, and 3) No Disability-Based Violation, No FAPE Violation.
To read the full letter, please go to http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/letters/colleague-bullying-201410.pdf
The US DOE has also issued a fact sheet for parents: http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/dcl-factsheet-bullying-201410.pdf