U.S. Department of Education Provides Guidance on School Bullying


In a recent survey of 43,321 U.S. high school students, 47% of the students said that they were bullied last year and 50% admitted that they bullied other students last years.  The survey was conducted by the Josephson Institute of Ethics and the results were published on October 26, 2010. According to Education Week on October 26, the Institute’s president said that the study shows that more bullying goes on than previously thought and remains extremely prevalent through high school.  On the same day that the study was published the U.S. Department of Education (ED) sent a “Dear Colleague” letter to education agencies across the country providing guidance to support educators in combating bullying in schools.  Although many education agencies have adopted anti-bullying policies, the ED guidance points out that some forms of bullying may also violate civil rights laws and regulations that are enforced by the ED Office for Civil Rights (OCR).  According to the ED letter, an education agency may find itself in violation of OCR’s civil rights laws and regulations “when peer harassment based on race, color, national origin, sex, or disability is sufficiently serious that is creates a hostile environment and such harassment is encouraged, tolerated, not adequately address, or ignored by school employees.”  The letter clarifies that school personnel have a legal obligation to prevent harassment or bullying from occurring and to respond appropriately when it does occur.  In the letter, ED provided examples of incidents of bullying and harassment that were not appropriately addressed by school employees and offered suggestions for procedural improvements.  The letter states that even when bullying or harassment is not a civil rights violation, schools should still take steps to prevent it.  Schools are responsible for addressing known incidents of harassment or bullying and incidents about which the school should have reasonably known.  OCR advises that all schools should have well-publicized policies prohibiting harassment and procedures for reporting and resolving complaints.

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