Feds issue guidance on disability bullying

The U.S. Department of Education sent a letter to educators nationwide August 20, urging schools to address bullying against students with disabilities, or risk legal penalties arising from the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

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“Bullying of any student by another student, for any reason, cannot be tolerated in our school,” the letter stated. “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.”

In the letter, the DOE wrote that a schools which are failing to protect students with disabilities from bullying may be denying them a “free appropriate public education,” the threshold requirement for all students mandated by the IDEA.

Upon determining that a student is being bullied, the DOE lays out a variety of steps schools must take to ensure the student is still benefiting from his or her individualized education plan. The DOE urges school to avoid automatically moving these students into more segregated settings.

“The IDEA placement teams…should exercise caution when considering a change in placement or the location of services provided to the student with a disability who was a target of bullying behavior and should keep the student in the original placement unless the student can no longer receive FAPE in the current (least restrictive environment) placement,” the letter states, sent from the DOE’s Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Service.

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

“We applaud and commend the Department for reinforcing that when a child is being bullied, it is inappropriate to ‘blame the victim’ and remove them from the general education classroom,” Ne’eman said in a blog post on the Department of Education’s website. “School districts have an obligation to address the source of the problem – the stigma and prejudice that drives bullying behavior.”