Anti-Bullying Protections For Students With Disabilities

Bullying is an important issue in schools. The Department of Education clarifies anti-bullying protections for students with disabilities in this article from Huffington Post:

When a 10-year-old student with ADHD and a speech disability talks in a high-pitched voice, gym class can become a nightmare. Other students call him “gay” or a “weirdo.” He becomes yet another student with disabilities who gets bullied at a higher rate than his peers — a problem the federal government has been tracking for years.

Since 2009, the feds have received 2,000 complaints of such incidents. But until now, due to the nature of his disability, the gym student might not have received the same federal anti-bullying protections as many of his peers — even though he is legally entitled to it.

The Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights is seeking to change that. This week, Assistant Secretary of Civil Rights Catherine Lhamon sent a letter with new legal guidance to the nation’s public schools in an effort to clarify that federal anti-bullying protections extend to about 750,000 more students than schools think.

The gym student, as described in Lhamon’s letter, is representative. He’s an example from the new guidance, and he receives his special education services under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973’s Section 504, the category of students whose coverage is clarified by the guidance.

Before this week’s letter, the Education Department’s most recent guidance on this issue came in 2013 from its special education office, which oversees the enforcement of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. But not all students with disabilities are covered by IDEA — in fact, about three quarters of a million studentsare entitled to special education services under Section 504, but not under IDEA. And in many cases, these students have been left out of schools’ attempts to police bullying.

“We were frankly surprised and dismayed when we learned that there had been some confusion after the 2013 document,” Lhamon told The Huffington Post. “People didn’t understand that students who don’t receive IDEA services are nonetheless entitled to the protections against bullying that we’re talking about.”

The new letter, which comes during National Bullying Prevention Month, aims to clear up the confusion and extend protections to more students. Under federal law, most students with disabilities have a right to a “free and appropriate public education,” but in some cases, the letter says, bullying can prevent them from receiving it — pushing schools into the realm of noncompliance.

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Related: Blubber


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