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Feds Urge Schools To Tackle Bullying Of Kids With Disabilities

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In new guidance sent to educators across the country, federal education officials say that schools may be liable if they don’t properly address bullying of students with disabilities.

The guidance issued Tuesday in a four-page “Dear Colleague” letter details the unique obligations that schools have under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act to ensure that children with disabilities are not victimized.

Specifically, officials from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services said that bullying can lead to a denial of a student’s right to a free and appropriate public education, or FAPE, if it “results in the student not receiving meaningful educational benefit.”

What’s more, they warned schools not to automatically move a student with a disability who is being bullied to a more segregated environment. Such a change could be considered a denial of a student’s right to be educated in the least restrictive environment, the guidance said.

“We know that students with disabilities are disproportionately affected by bullying,” said Melody Musgrove, director of the Education Department’s Office of Special Education Programs. “Schools have a responsibility to ensure that FAPE and the least restrictive environment is available to students with disabilities.”

In cases where bullying occurs, educators should intervene immediately and respond “quickly and consistently,” according to the letter signed by Musgrove and Michael Yudin, acting assistant secretary for the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services.

Additionally, a meeting of the student’s individualized education program team should be called to address any changes in a student’s services or program that might be needed as a result of bullying, officials said. However, the letter indicates that any student who experiences bullying should remain in his or her original placement unless they are no longer able to receive FAPE in that environment.

Musgrove said that the move to issue guidance is part of the Department of Education’s ongoing effort to address bullying within the nation’s schools. While the letter does not detail any new legal obligations, federal officials are encouraging schools to re-evaluate their policies and practices.

Several studies in recent years have suggested that children with disabilities more frequently encounter bullying. Findings released in 2012 from a nationwide poll indicated that 63 percent of kids with autism have been bullied. Another study published the same year found that about half of adolescents with autism, intellectual disability, speech impairments and learning disabilities were bullied at school.

Ari Ne’eman, president of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, called the Education Department’s move a “significant step forward.”

“Right now, many autistic students experiencing bullying are sent to segregated settings,” Ne’eman said. “We believe this clarification of obligations emerging under IDEA’s (least restrictive environment) provision may have a significant impact on the inclusion of autistic students as well as those with other disabilities.”

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Comments (5 Responses)

  1. Jon K. Evans says:

    It is one thing to try to stamp out bullying-Autistic or Neurotypical. It is another thing to recognize when bullying is taking place. Initiations, Rituals, Tests, Horseplay, Pranking, et-al also must stop. Upperclassmen must also stop the practice of humiliating their lower class counterparts. Most importantly, Teachers, students, parents, and faculty must recognize these boundaries.

  2. KLSpa says:

    Perhaps, the individuals bullying should be sent to a more restrictive placement… just saying..

  3. Stephanie says:

    What do you do when the student being bullied is bullied by the Special Ed teacher. And the school is moving the student to avoid the student being in contact with the problem teacher. This teacher has been bullying the student for over one year, she has been caught by staff, students and on video. And the school district still views the student as the problem and will not address the teacher being moved to another school or fired. HELP?? Where do we start? Where do we go? WE have complained to District officials, principal, and superintendent of the Entire School District and now calling department of education. Still this student is segregated from her mentoring program with other special needs friends and peers as the problem teacher is still allowed to work with those children. HELP?? Any suggestions???

  4. Kristin G. says:

    re Jon K. Evans – exactly. I just experienced with my son an unusual type of bullying (it happened frequently). This happened at my son’s summer camp and his school. Multiple children would get together and tell acounselor/teacher about something bad that my son did. Because there were many children telling the same story, and my son couldn’t defend himself because of social/communication issues, it was assumed my son was lying and he would get into trouble (usually having to sit out of recess or other activities). Never did an adult witness anything – they just took the word of the other children – because there were so many of them. They quickly figured out this was a great tactic to get my son into trouble – without him ever doing anything. Of course, this bad behavior would be put into his file and so my son became known as a troublemaker in the eyes of the principal etc.
    The only reason I figured this out – I witnessed it first-hand when the children did not not know I was watching.

  5. Frustrated parent says:

    With regard to the teacher, file a WRITTEN complaint with the school district and, if things don’t change, take your documentation to the Office of Civil Rights -they are the ones that investigate disability discrimination. If it isn’t in writing, it never happened (learned this the hard way!).

    With regard to the “multiple witness” situation, that appears to be going on with my child as well. He is picked on when the teachers are otherwise occupied and when he reacts, he gets in trouble. Not saying he is totally blameless, but he is feeling persecuted and his self esteem has taken a serious hit once again. I know kids can be cruel (personal history) but this is just beyond belief… To the point where my child doesn’t want to go to school because he says this happens every day. Maybe it is just his perception as far as the frequency of the actions, but to him, his perception is his reality and it is incredibly distressing for us both (today he said his main tormentor was calling him a “faggot” and asked if I knew what that meant. Last year this same kid repeatedly threatened to”slap the freckles off his face” and told him he would “stick him”. That was in fourth grade. Yes, we reported it, but apparently it is still an issue. The solution last year was to tell the boys they could not be in the same group – guess who was always the odd man out???

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