Helping Students Who Are Victims of Bullying

When a child with a disability is bullied, there are two ways parents may be able to help. One way is through the Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or Section 504 process. The other way is through the school grievance process. Depending on the situation, a parent may want to use both processes at the same time.

Addressing Bullying Through the IEP/504 Process

Students with IEPs or 504 Plans are guaranteed a free appropriate public education (FAPE). If bullying interferes with a student receiving FAPE, the school must address the bullying. Parents may want to request a meeting of the IEP or 504 Team to attempt to resolve the bullying issue.

The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has issued a fact sheet for parents on bullying and a letter with legal guidance for schools about bullying. Giving these documents to the Exceptional Children’s teacher and the principal before the meeting could be helpful.

If parents are not satisfied with the outcome of the IEP or 504 Team meeting, they may consider asking for a mediator from the NC Department of Public Instruction (DPI). The mediator request form can be found on DPI’s Dispute Resolution page. In addition to or instead of mediation, parents could consider filing a formal complaint (“state complaint”) against the school. Instructions for filing a formal complaint are also on the Dispute Resolution page on DPI’s website.

Important excerpts from the OCR guidance letter to schools

Note: Students with IEPs are protected by Section 504, so this guidance letter applies both to students with IEPs or 504 plans.

“[W]hen a school knows or should know of bullying conduct based on a student’s disability, it must take immediate and appropriate action to investigate or otherwise determine what occurred. If a school’s investigation reveals that bullying based on

disability created a hostile environment—i.e., the conduct was sufficiently serious to interfere with or limit a student’s ability to participate in or benefit from the services, activities, or opportunities offered by a school—the school must take prompt and effective steps reasonably calculated to end the bullying, eliminate the hostile environment, prevent it from recurring, and, as appropriate, remedy its effects.”

“Even if the school finds that the bullying did not create a hostile environment, the school would still have an obligation to address any FAPE-related concerns, if, for example, the school’s initial investigation revealed that the bullying may have some impact on the student’s receipt of FAPE services.”

“[A]s part of a school’s appropriate response to bullying on any basis, the school should convene the IEP team to determine whether, as a result of the effects of the bullying, the student’s needs have changed such that the IEP is no longer designed to provide a meaningful educational benefit. If the IEP is no longer designed to provide a meaningful educational benefit to the student, the IEP team must determine the extent to which additional or different IDEA FAPE services are needed to address the student’s individualized needs and then revise the IEP accordingly.”

“Any decisions made by the IEP team must be consistent with the IDEA provisions addressing parental participation and should keep the student with a disability in the original placement or setting (e.g., the same school and classroom) unless the student can no longer receive FAPE in that placement or setting.”

Addressing Bullying Through the School Grievance Process

Bullying also is prohibited by state law. Bullying is illegal under state law even when the student does not have an IEP or 504 Plan, and even when the bullying is not related to a student’s disability or is not interfering with special education. Parents of a child who is bullied can file a formal grievance with the superintendent’s office to ask them to address the bullying.

NC law requires each school district and charter school to have a policy that prohibits bullying or harassing behavior. Please see a copy of this law – Article 29C, School Violence Prevention – on page 17.

The school’s specific policy usually can be found in the student handbook. If the bullying is not resolved at the first level of the grievance, parents have the right to appeal to the next level of the school administration, which is usually the superintendent’s office, and then to the school board.