Sunday, October 6, 2013

Bullying of Students with Disabilities in Public Schools

In August, the U.S. Department of Education Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) reached out again to educators, school administrators, and parents, in an effort to address the needs of students with disabilities subjected to bullying by other students.  In its Dear Colleague letter, OSERS provided an overview of the related school district responsibilities under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). 

OSERs restated that bullying of a student with a disability which results in the student not receiving meaningful educational benefit constitutes a denial of a free appropriate public education (FAPE) under the IDEA.   It noted that even when bullying does not rise to that level, it can interfere with a student’s academic development.  OSERS further noted that students with disabilities are disproportionately affected by bullying, and that students who are bullied 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.   It further indicated that the impact of bullying in the school environment can “foster fear and disrespect and negatively affect the school experience, norms, and relationships of all students, families, and school personnel.”  

OSERS stated that as part of an appropriate response to reported bullying of a student with a disability, the school should convene the IEP Team to examine whether changes are needed in the student’s IEP in order to ensure that it is designed to provide the student with a meaningful educational benefit.   If the team finds that that additional or different special education or related services are needed, it must revise the IEP accordingly.  The letter further noted that parents have the right to request an IEP Team meeting at any time, and public agencies generally must grant a parental request for an IEP Team meeting where a student’s needs may have changed as a result of bullying.  If a student with a disability engaged in bullying behavior, OSERS states that the IEP Team should review the student’s IEP to determine if additional supports and services are needed to address the inappropriate behavior.  In either case, OSERS recommended that 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. 

In concluding the letter, OSERS encouraged the state agencies and school districts to reevaluate their policies and practices in regard to bullying, and provided them with an attached resource titled: “Effective Evidence-based Practices for Preventing and Addressing Bullying,”   The entire document and attachment are available at: