Guidance, Interpretation, and Information Regarding the Department of Education’s 2014 Dear Colleague Letter Addressing Bullying among Students with Disabilities

(Posted April 10, 2015)

Article by Dr. Chad A. Rose
Excerpts from Brook Phillips, WDE Vision Outreach Services Consultant

Note: Bullying interrupts the learning process for all students. It is critical to address the problems so that access in not denied.

Since 2000, the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) and the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) have issued a series of Dear Colleague Letters (2000, 2010, 2013, 2014) intended to provide clarity on the legal interpretation of bullying and disability-based harassment involving individuals with disabilities.

Three fundamental issues have been addressed within these Dear Colleague Letters related to bullying among individuals with disabilities.

  1. The legal interpretative difference between harassment and bullying was established, where bullying constitutes behaviors that are grounded in peer-level aggression and can take various forms (e.g., physical, verbal, social, electronic, sexual) and harassment represents aggression for which an individual has legal protection (e.g., race/ethnicity, gender, disability).
  2. These Dear Colleague Letters provided guidance related to disability-based harassment or bullying that may constitute federal violations in violation of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and/or Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
  3. If the bullying is directed toward and individual with a disability the legal provisions of FAPE and LRE may be violated under IDEA.

Ultimately, a school is responsible for addressing incidents of bullying involving students with disabilities if the incidence is known or it is reasonable that the school should have known that the bullying was occurring. Therefore, if a special education teacher suspects that a student with a disability is involved in bullying, the school must take immediate and appropriate actions to conduct a prompt, thorough, and impartial investigation.

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