Severe bullying of a student with disabilities could deny that student’s right to a free, appropriate public education and would need to be addressed under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, according to a guidance letter for districts, states, and building administrators last week by the U.S. Department of Education.
A student who is not receiving “meaningful educational benefit” because of bullying triggers that provision, but even bullying that is less severe can undermine a student’s ability to meet his or her full potential, says the letter. If a student with a disability is bullying others, school officials should review that student’s individualized education program (IEP) to see if additional support or changes to the student’s environment are necessary.
The letter points to research on bullying and students with disabilities, including a 2012 paper in the Journal of School Psychology that found that students with observable disabilities and behavior disabilities reported being bullied more often than their typically developing peers.
The guidance letter also says that schools cannot unilaterally decide to try to fix a bullying problem by moving a student with disabilities to a more-restrictive, “protective” environment, or by changing a student’s special education services. That decision must be made by an IEP team and give an opportunity for parents to weigh in, the letter says.
A version of this article appeared in the August 28, 2013 edition of Education Week as Ed. Dept. Addresses Bullying of Students With Disabilities