New guidance to protect students with disabilities
The Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights is working to clarify anti-bullying protections for students with disabilities. Assistant Secretary of Civil Rights Catherine Lhamon sent a letter, which comes during National Bullying Prevention Month, with new legal guidance to the country’s public schools. The letter is an attempt to explain that federal anti-bullying protections extend to around three quarters of a million more students than schools believe.
Prior to this week’s letter, the Education Department’s latest guidance on anti-bullying protection was in 2013 from its special education office, which oversees the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. However, about 750,000 students with disabilities are not protected by IDEA – but are entitled to special education services under Section 504.
The new letter intends to clear up the uncertainties and extend protection to more students. Under federal law, most students with disabilities have a right to a “free and appropriate public education,” but in some instances, bullying can prevent them from receiving it, the letter says – pushing schools into the realm of noncompliance.
“It’s a clear statement that students with disabilities are being disproportionately bullied and that … [the federal government] is going to enforce the law that prohibits that,” said Denise Marshall, head of the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, a group of lawyers who represent the parents of students with disabilities.
I am pleased that the Obama administration is reaching out to inform public schools of the gross misunderstanding about the number of students who are adversely affected by bullying. My hope is that through the distribution of this letter, more students with disabilities will be able to attend public school and learn without the fear of being bullied. Bullying must come to an end.