Magazine article National Association of School Psychologists. Communique

Department of Education Guidance on Harassment and Bullying

Magazine article National Association of School Psychologists. Communique

Department of Education Guidance on Harassment and Bullying

Article excerpt

IDEA IN PRACTICE

The U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights (OCR) recently issued a "Dear Colleague" letter offering detailed guidance to schools on how civil rights law applies to incidents of bullying and harassment. It explains how student misconduct that falls under schools' antibullying policy also may trigger responsibilities under one or more of the antidiscrimination statutes enforced by OCR. The letter serves as a powerful reminder to schools that failure to recognize discriminatory harassment when addressing bullying behavior may violate students' federal civil rights. The guidance discusses disability harassment, sexual harassment, and harassment based on racial and national origin, and gender (including sexual orientation).

There are several antidiscrimination laws that OCR enforces, including Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin; Title K of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex; and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, which prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability. Colleges and universities have the same obligations under these laws as elementary and secondary schools. If a school knows or should have reason to know that harassment has occurred, it must take immediate and appropriate action to investigate the incident. If it is determined that harassment has occurred, a school must take prompt and effective steps to end the harassment, eliminate a hostile environment, and prevent reoccurrence. These obligations are the school's responsibility even in the case where the victim has not made a complaint or asked the school for help. A complaint of discrimination can be made to OCRby anyone who believes that a school has discriminated against someone based on race, color, national origin, sex, disability, or age.

The letter includes several real-life examples of racial, sexual, gender-based, and disability harassment that would constitute a violation of students' civil rights and the necessary steps and corrective actions schools should take. In an example of disability harassment, the following scenario was described:

Several classmates repeatedly called a student with a learning disability, "stupid," "idiot," and "retard" while in school and on the bus. On one occasion, these students tackled him, hit him with a school binder, and threw his personal items in the garbage. School officials offered the victim counseling services and a psychiatric evaluation, but did not discipline the offending students. …

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