Special Education

Fair and Appropriate, But Not Bully-Free

By Nirvi Shah — March 10, 2011 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The possibility of bullying—even for a student with disabilities—isn’t enough to warrant a transfer to another school, a Pennsylvania federal court judge ruled in February.

A student identified as J.E. in court documents had been attending a private school, placed there based on his Individualized Education Program, to best meet his needs. The 10th-grader had been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, reading, math, and writing disorders, as well as a learning disorder related to auditory and visual processing.

A month later, his parents pulled him out of that school and enrolled him in another private school without the school district’s permission. During the rest of the school year, the school district worked on creating a new class at a public high school that would cater to students with autism.

But the student’s parents rejected enrolling their son at the school for several reasons, including that he would be singled out as a student with a disability and he could be at an especially high risk of being bullied. Their son had apparently been bullied before, at the private school they pulled him out of.

The judge said that wasn’t enough. “J.E. may face bullying, but a fair appropriate public education does not require that the District be able to prove that a student will not face future bullying at a placement, as this is impossible,” U.S. District Court Judge Eduardo C. Robreno wrote in his ruling.

Today, President Barack Obama is hosting a conference on bullying prevention at the White House. The President and First Lady Michelle Obama are hosting a live question-and-answer session on Facebook at 12:20 p.m. eastern time.

Last month, I wrote about a report that said special education students are the likeliest targets for bullies. But the bullying problem certainly isn’t limited to one group of kids or another, and the picture of the bully and the bullied has become fuzzy.

Is the mere possibility of bullying, in your mind, enough to warrant changing schools? Or is no school immune to bullies?

After spending the day at the White House, I heard stories from educators -- who aren’t always sure what to or believe they have the power to deal with bullies; from parents whose children committed suicide after being bullied; and from victims of bullying. They include the President himself.

“With big ears and the name that I have, I wasn’t immune,” he said. The president announced a new website, stopbullying.gov, that launched today, as well as a commitment to keep the spotlight on bullying.

Other news of the day: Facebook and MTV will work on new anti-bullying initiatives.

A version of this news article first appeared in the On Special Education blog.