The Department of Education and U.S. Education Secretary, Arne Duncan, have taken an unprecedented step forward on the issue of School Safety and specifically, on bullying and discriminatory harassment.
The Department of Education issued guidance to support educators in combating bullying in schools by clarifying when student bullying may violate federal education anti-discrimination laws and the schools’ responsibility to intervene.
Secretary Duncan held a teleconference to discuss the implications of bullying as it may relate to civil rights discrimination.
All of this followed the recent national publicity surrounding a string of deaths , which have included the suicide of a college student who took his own life after it was revealed he was allegedly gay.
President Obama Weighs In
President Obama released his “It gets better” video, taped at the White House and posted at The White House Blog, the weekend following the college student’s suicide incident.
The blog posting and video served to reaffirm President Obama’s commitment to making schools safe for all students.
He commented that “Recently, several young people have taken their own lives after being bullied for being gay – or perceived as being gay – by their peers. Their deaths are shocking and heartbreaking tragedies. No one should have to endure relentless harassment or tormenting. No one should ever feel so alone or desperate that they feel they have nowhere to turn. We each share a responsibility to protect our young people.” President Obama also pointed out we have an obligation to set an example of respect and kindness, regardless of our differences.
President Obama’s video follows his previous steps taken to prevent bullying. In August 2010, A Presidential Task Force on bullying prevention staged the first-ever National Bullying Summit, bringing together 150 top state, local, civic, and corporate leaders to begin mapping out a national plan to end bullying. The task force also launched a new website, www.bullyinginfo.org, which brings all the federal resources on bullying together in one place for the first time ever.
Legislation on bullying
Only 5 states do not have legislation on bullying
States that have adopted anti-bullying legislation report that the laws have led to increased teacher training, character education and sensitivity programs, according to Bully Policy USA, a group that tracks bullying legislation. It is difficult however to determine if theses policies and programs aimed at preventing bullying are having any effect as the reporting systems vary and some states do not even track bullying incidents. Clearly, legislation alone is not enough to eradicate this pervasive problem schools face daily.
The involvement of the Office for Civil Rights (OCR), through issuing the Dear Colleague Letter: Harassment and Bullying, is unprecedented because it points out that student misconduct that falls under a school’s anti-bullying policy also may trigger responsibilities under one or more of the federal anti-discrimination laws enforced by the Department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) and listed below:
- Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 19641 (Title VI), which prohibits discrimination based on the basis of race, color, or national origin.
- Title IX of the Education Amendments of 19722 (Title IX), which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex.
- Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 19733 (Section 504);
- Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 19904 (Title II). Section 504 and Title II prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability.
Office of Civil Rights – Dear Colleague Letter: Harassment and Bullying
Civil Rights Regulations and Bullying
The Letter reminds school districts that they may be violating these important civil rights statutes and the Department’s regulations when peer harassment is based on race, color, national origin, sex, or disability is sufficiently serious that it creates a hostile environment and such harassment is encouraged, tolerated, not adequately addressed, or ignored by school employees.
Further the Letter states, “Once a school knows or reasonably should know of possible student-on-student harassment, it must take immediate and appropriate action to investigate or otherwise determine what occurred. If harassment has occurred, a school must take prompt and effective steps reasonably calculated to end the harassment, eliminate any hostile environment, and prevent its recurrence. These duties are a school’s responsibility even if the misconduct also is covered by an anti-bullying policy and regardless of whether the student makes a complaint, asks the school to take action, or identifies the harassment as a form of discrimination.”
KVPR FM – Quality of Life
With this new perspective, Districts may be well served to update bullying prevention policies and institute school wide approaches to addressing the problem. Below are some resources that should help with that process:
Stop Bullying Now – This is the first place I go for resources and information on bullying prevention. The site is updated frequently and the number of educator resources keeps growing. US Department of Health and Human Services Website on Bullying and how to prevent it. A section of children’s games and activities with suggestions for “What you can Do” is included. Also there is a large “What Adults Can Do” with numerous resources for educators.
Bullying Info Part of Find Youth Info.gov which is composed of 12 Federal Agencies that support programs and services focusing on Youth. A partner of Stop Bullying Now.
Teaching Tolerance Website.
A project of the Southern Poverty Law Center has a variety of Classroom Activities including Bullying Tips for Students, Peer Exclusion, Me and We: A Mix it up Activity, Put Downs and Put Ups, It’s o.k. to feel different, Stand up and many others related to racism, bullying and school climate.
Department of Education Advisory Bullying and Harassment – Dear Colleague Letter info:
 National School Safety and Security Services. Article “Bullying and School Safety.” 2010
 Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) Department of Human Services. Stop Bullying Now Campaign website “Lend a hand, Take a stand.” http://stopbullyingnow.hrsa.gov/kids/
Bullying: A Guide for Educators
What is Bullying? A Powerpoint Presentation
Bullying and How to Stop It.
Preventing Bullying: A Manual for Schools and Communities
Preventing and Countering School Based Harassment. A Resource Guide.
School Climate Questionnaire
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