As students and parents are beginning to think about school supplies and returning to school in the fall, the first thought should not be of fear and anxiety but rather what teacher they will have and will they get to be in class with their best friend. Unfortunately for many students and especially those with disabilities, returning to school means torment, ridicule, stress, fear, and innumerable other emotions they experience as they face their bully.
Schools have the obligation to protect all students from bullying, especially students with disabilities. According to studies done in the United States, students with disabilities are 2-3 times more likely than a student without a disability to be bullied in school. Because of the prevalence and harmful outcomes of bullying, the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) issued a series of “Dear Colleague” letters to guide and update parents and school staff on the process of properly handling bullying situations and protecting students’ rights.
According to the OCR, the bullying of a student with a disability may result in the loss of a free and appropriate public education (FAPE). The loss of FAPE due to bullying occurs for a few main reasons. First, if the bullying has created a hostile environment in which the student with disabilities is struggling to engage in class, social situations, and other school activities. Next, if the school did not take the appropriate steps to quickly end the bullying. Finally, if school staff knew or should have known bullying was occurring at school yet did not effectively remedy the situation.
Signs Parents Should Watch for:
- Injuries they cannot explain
- Declining or unusually low grades
- Lost items of clothing or electronics
- Emotional instability or unpredictable behavior
- Change in eating patterns such as coming home from school hungry
- Declining class participation or no longer wanting to socialize with other peers
- Nightmares or increased tiredness
- Increase in absences and a feeling of resentment toward school
- Behaviors that are harmful such as running away or self-harm.
What Parents Can Do:
If you think your child has been bullied, talk to them and see if they can provide you any details. Immediately contact the school and complete the school’s bullying form. You should keep a copy of this form as it is not considered an educational record and is maintained separately form the rest of your child’s records. The school staff should investigate your concerns and if appropriate you and the school should create a plan to address the bullying. You can ask for an IEP or 504 meeting to review your child’s plan and if appropriate revise the child’s individualized plan to ensure the provision of a FAPE. This might include adding goals and possibly services for counseling, self-advocacy, etc. If you are unable to agree as a team as to how to address the student’s needs, you can utilize your procedural safeguards for dispute resolution which include mediation and due process. You can also contact the Office of Civil Rights to discuss options which may include filing a complaint regarding possible disability discrimination.
Bullying can cause irreparable harm to students socially, emotionally, and academically. Bullying can also result in the loss of FAPE and should be addressed immediately. If your child has been bullied and you would like more information on the steps you can take, please contact the Law Office of Brian K. Gruber for more information or to schedule a consultation.
Disclaimer: This blog is made available by the Law Office of Brian K. Gruber, P.C. for educational purposes only as well as to give you general information and a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice. By using this blog site, you understand that there is no attorney client relationship between you and the publisher. The blog should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.