Recent tragic suicides as the result of bullying have spurred President Obama and the Department of Education to speak out against bullying and to address these issues nationally. At least two of these suicides were the result of anti-gay bullying, while others involved youth including those with disabilities.
Russlyn Ali, Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, sent a Dear Colleague letter to educational institutions around the country to emphasize the fact that bullying is not only against school board policies, against common sense and courtesy, but also may violate federal anti-discrimination laws such as Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. Thankfully, in NC we can also look to the School Violence Prevention Act that was passed in 2009, which the Autism Society of NC supported. This law prohibits any bullying, specifically naming categories such as gender identity, physical appearance, sexual orientation, mental, physical, developmental or sensory disability—or even “by association with a person who has or is perceived to have one or more of these characteristics”.
Besides reminding people of the laws against bullying, the White House will also host a conference in 2011 to draw attention to these issues and provide parents, youth, school and community leaders with tools to prevent bullying and harassment.
Additionally, the Department of Education will present technical assistance workshops throughout the U.S. in 2011 to help school officials understand the applicable laws as well as the resources that are available to stop bullying and harassment.
Here’s a very interesting example from a Dear Colleague letter about disability harassment (http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/disabharassltr.html, 2000):
Examples of harassment that could create a hostile environment follow…
A teacher subjects a student to inappropriate physical restraint because of conduct related to his disability, with the result that the student tries to avoid school through increased absences.7 Appropriate classroom discipline is permissible, generally, if it is of a type that is applied to all students or is consistent with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Section 504, including the student’s Individualized Education Program or Section 504 plan.
Makes you think, doesn’t it?
If your child is being bullied at school, communicate this clearly to school officials. Do not allow a hostile environment to endanger your child’s education, health, safety or mental status! Remember that there are state and federal laws to protect individuals with and without disabilities, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
As President Obama says in the following YouTube clip, it does get better…but we have to work together to make it happen.