As part of National Bullying Prevention 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.
The Department issued guidance in the form of a letter to educators detailing public schools’ responsibilities under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and Title II of Americans with Disabilities Act regarding the bullying of students with disabilities. If a student with a disability is being bullied, federal law requires 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.
This guidance builds upon anti-bullying guidance the Department has issued in recent years concerning schools’ legal obligations to fix the problem, including
- a 2013 dear colleague letter and enclosure by the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) clarifying that when bullying of a student with a disability results in the student not receiving meaningful educational benefit under IDEA, the school must remedy the problem, regardless of whether the bullying was based on the student’s disability;
- a 2010 dear colleague letter by OCR which elaborated on potential violations when bullying and harassment is based on race, color, national origin, sex, or disability; and
- a 2000 dear colleague letter by the OCR and OSERS, which explained that bullying based on disability may violate civil rights laws enforced by OCR as well as interfere with a student’s receipt of special education under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
The latest letter makes clear that the protections for students with disabilities who are bullied on any basis extend to the roughly three quarters of a million students who are not eligible for IDEA services but are entitled to services under the broader Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. That law bars discrimination on the basis of disability in all programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance.
IEL and its National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability for Youth are national partners for National Bullying Prevention Month, which is organized by PACER Center.