In a study done in 2011 by the Delaware Developmental Disabilities Council on bullying, the council found that 3.2 million students are bullied every year on a national level, and 3.7 million students engage in bullying behavior. As well, each school day it is estimated that 160,000 students miss school because of bullying. These are alarming statistics, and unfortunately students with disabilities are often the victims of bullying. The report states “The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) guarantees all students and adults have access to a “free and appropriate” public education. If “peer-on-peer” harassment infringes on this right, then schools, parents and state entities must be prepared to advocate and intercede on behalf of bullying victims. This position statement outlines the DDC’s stance on bullying students with developmental disabilities and possible courses of action to limit further bullying.”
In the 2011-2012 school year, there were 549 substantiated (determined to be bullying by administration) incidents of bullying and 662 “substantiated” incidents. This report was made available to the public on 9/18/12. For the 2012-2013 school year, there were 713 substantiated incidents. That school year was the first where schools were obligated to report the number of alleged incidents, which was 2,446. While I’m sure there are some reports that may either be false accusations or not actual bullying, that still seems like a very huge amount of alleged bullying incidents not counting as substantiated bullying. The percentage rate between alleged reports and substantiated reports is a little over 29%. The 2013 report does show a breakdown, and out of the 713 incidents, it showed 32 were due to disability bullying.
But on February 19th, 2014, Lieutenant Governor Matt Denn and Attorney General Joseph Biden, III issued a report entitled Unfinished Business: Implementation by Delaware Public Schools of the State’s 2012 Anti-Bullying Laws. The report indicated most public schools were in compliance in regards to listing information about the state ombudsman of bullying, through the Attorney General office, on their websites. Most charter schools were not in compliance. The report stated “The most prevalent reported causes of bullying in Delaware public schools are students’ physical appearance, student disability, and student gender identity.”
The report cited a study done by the National Center for Education Statitistics which estimated 28% of middle school students are bullied. It went into more detail about the disability status, which showed 10% of the 713 reported bullying incidents in Delaware during the 2012-2013 school year were against a student with a disability which starkly contradicts the 4.48% reported by the DOE.
What none of these reports cover is the unspoken bullying. The students who are too afraid of retailiation and say nothing. This goes on every single day in schools. Students who would rather be mocked and ridiculed at a lower level than “snitch” and be retailiated against. Pacer’s National Bullying Prevention Centers cited on their website that 64% of bullying goes unreported.
For students with disabilities, this is immensely cruel. These students have a hard enough time with their disabilities, and then to have students tease them because of it? And to be so afraid to speak up about it? Unacceptable. They already know they are different, and then they feel like they are being punished for it. Pacer had some very shocking statistics in their reports. Among them were the following:
Statistics about bullying of students with disabilities
Only 10 U.S. studies have been conducted on the connection between bullying and developmental disabilities, but all of these studies found that children with disabilities were two to three times more likely to be bullied than their nondisabled peers. (Marshall, Kendall, Banks & Gover (Eds.), 2009).
Researchers discovered that students with disabilities were more worried about school safety and being injured or harassed by other peers compared to students without a disability (Saylor & Leach, 2009).
The National Autistic Society reports that 40 percent of children with autism and 60 percent of children with Asperger’s syndrome have experienced bullying.
When reporting bullying youth in special education were told not to tattle almost twice as often as youth not in special education (Davis and Nixon, 2010)
I went through many of the school district and charter school websites, and I found that the vast majority of them do have a list of potential reasons for the bullying, but many don’t show a section for disabilities. So Delaware’s reporting of 10% of the bullying being against students with disabilities is most likely a much lower percentage than reality. So it can be very difficult to understand why there are the two major discrepancies between the two reports. I question the validity of any report of bullying against children with disabilities within the state of Delaware because of these factors.
Something needs to change. I have heard from many parents who report that schools are very resistant for education of a class in regards to a physical manifestation of a child’s disabilities. As a father of a son who has been bullied, it breaks my heart. Schools need to be aware that repeated offenses against children with disabilities can lead to civil rights investigations.
My advice to special needs parents of students with disabilities, do not wait one second when your child reports a bullying incident. Report it right away, in writing, and if the school’s form doesn’t include a “disability” section or any suspected reason checklist, write it down, apart from everything else so it stands out. If you don’t hear back from the school within 48 hours, go to the school with a pen and paper and ask to see the principal. Write everything down! The Delaware DOE is required to receive any bullying report from local school districts or charter schools within 5 business days (not school days) of any bullying incident (alleged or substantiated) so parents can certainly check with them to see if the school has been in compliance.
This is just one more thing children with special needs have to deal with on any given school day. The bullying needs to stop and teachers and school staff need to be watching and paying attention much more than they have been.