Bullying and Students with Disabilities: Legal and Practice Considerations

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT: Bullying in schools has received both media and scholarly attention for the past 20 years. A large body of research has identified variables associated with bullies, victims, and bully-victims in terms of predictive and preventative factors. However, less attention has been given to the role federal legislation and litigation has played in schools being held more accountable for bullying that may involve discriminatory practices based on disability. Students who have some obvious physical or cognitive disability are at greater risk for being bullied. When they retaliate, they are often considered bully-victims when, in reality, they are only trying to protect themselves in a manner consistent with their oftentimes limited skills. Students with emotional or behavioral disorders (EBD) are at particular risk for displaying bully-victim characteristics. The first purpose of this article is to describe legislative mandates and relevant litigation on bullying and harassment so that schools are better positioned to react appropriately and swiftly when bullying involving students with disabilities occurs. The second purpose is to describe evidence-based practices schools can implement for preventing bullying and responding to it appropriately.

* Although schools are expected to be safe environments for teaching and learning, they often become grounds for violence and intimidation. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (2010), in 2008 approximately 1.2 million students were victims of nonfatal crimes at school. Further, in 2007, about 32% of 12- to 18-year-old students reported having been bullied at school during the school year and 4 percent reported having been cyber-bullied. Among these students, 21% were teased, 18% were the subject of rumors, 1 1 % were pushed, shoved, tripped, or spat on, 6% were threatened, 5% were purposely excluded from activities, and 4% were pressured to display behaviors they otherwise would not perform and had their property destroyed (National Center for Education Statistics, 201 0). By the end of 201 0, 45 states had passed harassment, intimidation, or bullying legislation applicable to public schools (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2011). Bullying typically involves persistent and aggressive physical, emotional, sexual, verbal, or nonverbal behavior for gaining an imbalance of power or strength (Kriha, 2010). Cyber bullying also can involve e-mails, instant messages, cell phones, text messages, photos, videos, and Facebook (Grim, 2008; Kowalski & Fedina, 2011).

There are emerging data indicating that students with certain disabilities are more likely to be victimized and that rates of occurrence are higher in integrated settings than in special education settings (Taylor, Saylor, Twyman, & Macias, 2010; Van Roekel, Schölte, & Didden, 2010). Individuals with autism and attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder appear to be particularly vulnerable to both traditional and cyber bullying (Humphrey & Symes, 2010; Kowalski & Fedina, 2011; Taylor et al., 2010; Van Roekel et al., 2010). Individuals with learning disabilities (Mishna, 2003) and individuals with special health care needs (Forrest, Bevans, Riley, Crespo, & Louis, 201 1 ) are also more likely to be victimized. In particular, students with EBD are not only more likely to be bullied and experience more severe victimization than students without disabilities or with other disabilities but may also themselves become bullies (Cummings, Pepler, Mishna, & Craig, 2006). According to Gumpel (2008), individuals with EBD are just as likely to be aggressors as they are to be victims (see also Gumpel & Sutherland, 2010). Similarly, Cho, Hendrickson, and Mock (2009) reported that 60% of students with EBD were identified as bullies, victims, or bully-victims.

Students with EBD display additional characteristics. For example, those who have also been diagnosed with oppositional defiant disorder or conduct disorder are more likely to exhibit bullying-victim behaviors (Kokkinos & Panayiotou, 2004). …


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