Bullying disproportionately impacts students with disabilities and must be addressed in every single case
Washington, DC – As part of National Bullying Prevention Awareness Month, the U.S. Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) today 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. In response COPAA releases the following statement:
“The strong leadership and guidance of The Office of Civil Rights is timely and meaningful. By acknowledging the disproportionate impact of bullying on students with disabilities the U.S. Department of Education is creating enhanced and heightened awareness as well as putting schools on notice that every vulnerable child – especially those with disabilities as qualifying under The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504) – are to be protected by the adults responsible for them. The Dear Colleague is quite clear in explaining to schools that no time should elapse, nor should a child’s safety and well-being be disregarded when an incident is suspected or may have occurred" said Denise Marshall, Executive Director.
The OCR Letter goes a long way in informing schools of their responsibilities under Section 504 and Title II of the Americans With Disabilities Act. OCR also articulated what the elements are for proving an administrative complaint for violation of Section 504's Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) requirements. Selene Almazan, COPAA Legal Director, reminds COPAA members and colleagues: "While very useful tool for advocates and families, the standard for the Courts remains deliberate indifference and that remains a large hurdle. That said, it is good to see the seriousness with which they are treating the issue and gratifying to see the standard for delivery of FAPE spelled out."
Data and experience show that children with disabilities are too often the target of bullying and harassment – whether it be through overt physical behavior or verbal, emotional, or social behaviors – and schools, together with families must strive to ensure that every child feels safe and supported at school, on the bus, during recess/lunch and other extracurricular activities. COPAA thanks the Department and Assistant Secretary Lhamon for sending an unequivocal message that schools must do everything possible to protect access to a FAPE for every student with a disability and ensure both suspected and known violations are investigated and dealt with in accordance to the law.
For more information and the guidance:Bullying of Students with Disabilities Addressed in Guidance to America’s Schools