“Bullying is characterized by aggression used within a relationship where the aggressor(s) has more real or perceived power than the target, and the aggression is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Bullying can involve overt physical behavior or verbal, emotional, or social behaviors (e.g., excluding someone from social activities, making threats, withdrawing attention, destroying someone’s reputation) and can range from blatant aggression to far more subtle and covert behaviors. Cyberbullying, or bullying through electronic technology (e.g., cell phones, computers, online/social media), can include offensive text messages or e-mails, rumors or embarrassing photos posted on social networking sites, or fake online profiles.” [Dear Colleague Letter, p. 2 (Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) August 13, 2013)]
Is it sufficient for a school, when it discovers bullying, to investigate the matter, discipline the bully, and provide training to students and staff to prevent future bullying?
“Whether or not the bullying is related to the student’s disability, any bullying of a student with a disability that results in the student not receiving meaningful educational benefit constitutes a denial of FAPE under the IDEA that must be remedied. . . Schools have an obligation to ensure that a student with a disability who is the target of bullying behavior continues to receive FAPE in accordance with his or her IEP. The school should, as part of its appropriate response to the bullying, convene the IEP Team to determine whether, as a result of the effects of the bullying, the student’s needs have changed such that the IEP is no longer designed to provide meaningful educational benefit. If the IEP is no longer designed to provide a meaningful educational benefit to the student, the IEP Team must then determine to what extent additional or different special education or related services are needed to address the student’s individual needs; and revise the IEP accordingly.” [Dear Colleague Letter, p. 3 (OSERS August 13, 2013)]
If a student with a disability is bullied, should the school or the IEP team change the student’s educational placement in an attempt to prevent future bullying?
“The IDEA placement team (usually the same as the IEP Team) should exercise caution when considering a change in the placement or the location of services provided to the student with a disability who was the target of the bullying behavior and should keep the student in the original placement unless the student can no longer receive FAPE in the current LRE placement. While it may be appropriate to consider whether to change the placement of the child who was the target of the bullying behavior, placement teams should be aware that certain changes to the education program of a student with a disability (e.g., placement in a more restrictive “protected” setting to avoid bullying behavior) may constitute a denial of the IDEA’s requirement that the school provide FAPE in the LRE. Moreover, schools may not attempt to resolve the bullying situation by unilaterally changing the frequency, duration, intensity, placement, or location of the student’s special education and related services. These decisions must be made by the IEP Team and consistent with the IDEA provisions that address parental participation.” [Dear Colleague Letter, p. 3 (OSERS August 13, 2013)]
What should a school do if the student who engaged in bullying is a child with a disability with an IEP?
“If the student who engaged in the bullying behavior is a student with a disability, the IEP Team should review the student’s IEP to determine if additional supports and services are needed to address the inappropriate behavior. In addition, the IEP Team and other school personnel should consider examining the environment in which the bullying occurred to determine if changes to the environment are warranted.” [Dear Colleague Letter, p. 3 (OSERS August 13, 2013)]
“Addressing and reporting bullying is critical. Students who are targets of bullying behavior are more likely to experience lower academic achievement and aspirations, higher truancy rates, feelings of alienation from school, poor relationships with peers, loneliness, or depression. . . Students with disabilities are disproportionately affected by bullying. For example, students with learning disabilities, attention deficit or hyperactivity disorder, and autism are more likely to be bullied than their peers. Any number of factors — physical characteristics, processing and social skills, or intolerant environments — may increase the risk that students with disabilities will be bullied. Due to the characteristics of their disabilities, students with intellectual, communication, processing, or emotional disabilities may not understand the extent to which bullying behaviors are harmful, or may be unable to make the situation known to an adult who can help. In circumstances involving a student who has not previously been identified as a child with a disability under the IDEA, bullying may also trigger a school’s child find obligations under the IDEA. 34 C.F.R. §§ 300.111, 300.201.” [Dear Colleague Letter, p. 2 (OSERS August 13, 2013)]