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Bullying Students With Disabilities

Published October 28, 2020 by Susan Clark Law Group LLC
Bullying Students With Disabilities

Harassment, intimidation, and bullying (HIB) can have severe, long-lasting, negative consequences on any student, but especially for a student with a disability. Students with disabilities are affected disproportionately compared to their non-disabled peers by a ratio of almost 3 to 1.

These include many forms of unwelcome conduct, such as:

  • Verbal physical threats,
  • Name calling,
  • Epithets,
  • Slurs
  • Written or graphic depictions,
  • Cyber bullying,
  • Actual shoving or intimidation,
  • Teasing on a school bus, and
  • Similar activities at school-sponsored events.

If you are the parent of a child with a disability, your son or daughter may either be the recipient of this HIB, or the one who initiates the behavior. In either event, you must be aware of what you should do to deal with it properly.

One: HIB exacerbates a disabled child’s ability to learn.

These students are having difficulties coping with the challenges in school. Being bullied, harassed, or intimidated makes it more difficult.

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act addresses this from a Federal perspective. It prohibits discrimination based on disability by any entity that receives Federal funding. Consequently, when a child with a disability is negatively affected in the child’s attempt to gain meaningful benefits from his or her 504 Plan or Individualized Educational Plan (IEP), that result may constitute a failure on the part of the school district to provide a free, appropriate public education (FAPE). This may constitute a civil rights violation under Section 504.

In addition to Section 504, the individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) also protects children with disabilities fromHIB, again, by stipulating that if a school district fails to remedy a HIB complaint, it may be a failure to provide a FAPE in violation of IDEA.

Under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act also applies to HIB of children with disabilities in all public places, regardless of whether Federal funds are involved.

There are also New Jersey law, P.L. 2010, Chapter 122 and school district policies that address how to respond to HIB situations.

Two: The definition of bullying based on a student’s disability may be considered as harassment.

The Office of Civil Rights (OCR) has stated that bullying may may be so considered when it is based on a student’s race, color, national origin, sex, disability, or religion.

These behaviors may include the listing at the outset of this article.

Three: Advocate for your child. Talk to him or her about a bullying situation.

Be prepared to listen, without judging, and try to provide your child with a safe place to cope with the problem.

Besides speaking to your child, you should report the incident to the school principal in writing. The school must conduct a bullying investigation. This also applies to teachers and school officials who want to be of help. Remember: students who are being bullied are being harmed or are being isolated from other students. Adult intervention is important. The child never has the responsibility to fix an HIB situation.

After reporting the incident, follow up with the school to determine what action has been taken.

You should know that 504 Plans and IEPs can be amended to include actions which address the effects of the bullying.

In addition to adult advocacy, peer-to-peer advocacy often empowers students to protect those targeted by HIB. Since most students do not like to see other students being bullied, they often speak out on behalf of each other. This is effective for two reasons:

  • Peers are more likely than adults to see what is occurring with their peers; and
  • a peer telling someone to stop bullying has more effect than an adult making the same statement.

Self-advocacy is when the student experiencing the bullying communicates what they want. To do this, the student must know how to:

  • speak up for one’s self;
  • describe one’s needs and wishes;
  • take responsibility for one’s self; and
  • get help or know who to ask for it.

If your disabled child is the student who is doing the HIB, the school must determine if his or her behavior is a manifestation of your child’s disability. To do this, the IEP Team or 504 Team must convene to make this determination. This will decide what, if any, form of discipline should be meted in the case.

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