Basic decency and respect demand that our schools ensure that all their students learn in a safe environment
Educational consultants realize that students with disabilities are disproportionately affected by bullying. For example, students with learning disabilities, attention deficit or hyperactivity disorder, and autism are more likely to be bullied than their peers. Any number of factors — physical characteristics, processing and social skills, or intolerant environments — may increase the risk that students with disabilities will be bullied. Due to the characteristics of their disabilities, students with intellectual, communication, processing, or emotional disabilities may not understand the extent to which bullying behaviors are harmful, or may be unable to make the situation known to an adult who can help. In circumstances involving a student who has not previously been identified as a child with a disability under the IDEA, bullying may also trigger a school’s child find obligations under the IDEA. 34 C.F.R. §§300.111, 300.201.
According to the The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS), bullying is characterized by aggression used within a relationship where the aggressor(s) has more real or perceived power than the target, and the aggression is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Bullying can involve overt physical behavior or verbal, emotional, or social behaviors (e.g., excluding someone from social activities, making threats, withdrawing attention, destroying someone’s reputation) and can range from blatant aggression to far more subtle and covert behaviors. Cyber-bullying, or bullying through electronic technology (e.g., cell phones, computers, online/social media), can include offensive text messages or e-mails, rumors or embarrassing photos posted on social networking sites, or fake online profiles.
Addressing and reporting bullying is critical. Students who are targets of bullying behavior are more likely to experience lower academic achievement and aspirations, higher truancy rates, feelings of alienation from school, poor relationships with peers, loneliness, or depression. Bystanders, or those who only see or hear about bullying, also may be negatively affected as bullying tends to have harmful effects on overall school climate. Bullying can foster fear and disrespect and negatively affect the school experience, norms, and relationships of all students, families, and school personnel. The consequences may result in students changing their patterns of school participation or schools eliminating school activities (e.g., dances, sporting events) where bullying has occurred. Teachers, school personnel, parents, and students should report bullying when they become aware of it.
A letter from The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services has been sent to schools across the country stating bullying of a student with a disability that results in the student not receiving meaningful educational benefit constitutes a denial of a free appropriate public education (FAPE) under the IDEA that must be remedied. However, even when situations do not rise to a level that constitutes a denial of FAPE, bullying can undermine a student’s ability to achieve his or her full academic potential. Bullying of any student by another student, for any reason, cannot be tolerated in our schools. Bullying is no longer dismissed as an ordinary part of growing up, and every effort should be made to structure environments and provide supports to students and staff so that bullying does not occur. Teachers and adults should respond quickly and consistently to bullying behavior and send a message that bullying is not acceptable. Intervening immediately to stop bullying on the spot can help ensure a safer school environment.