Schools have Legal Obligation to Stop Bullying, Protect IDEA Students

The Education Dept. publishes new guidance on bullying, reminding school districts they have a legal obligation to prevent and eliminate such behavior, especially when it’s directed at students with disabilities.

DoEd’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) issued guidance in the form of a letter to educators detailing public schools’ responsibilities under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and Title II of Americans with Disabilities Act regarding the bullying of students with disabilities. If a student with a disability is being bullied, federal law requires schools to take immediate and appropriate action to investigate the issue and take steps to stop the bullying and prevent it from recurring.

For example, if an investigation reveals that bullying based on disability created a hostile environment, the school must take prompt action. If the school does not clean things up, OCR can file disability-based harassment violations under Section 504 and Title II. Civil rights violations can mean financial penalties as well as criminal charges for those administrators involved.

OCR notes that these legal protections extend to all students with disabilities, including students who are regarded as having a disability or who have a record of a disability and students with disabilities who are not receiving services under Section 504 or IDEA. In addition to being protected from harassment on the basis of disability, students with disabilities, like all students, are entitled to protection from harassment on the basis of race, color, national origin or sex.

Student Responsibilities

Students have a responsibility to act appropriately while in school, the guidance notes. However, misconduct does not relieve the school of its legal obligation to determine whether that student’s civil rights were violated by the bullying conduct of the other student. For example, if a student, for reasons related to his disability, hits another student and other students then call him “crazy” on a daily basis, the school should, address the conduct of the student with a disability. But, the school must also consider whether the student with a disability is being bullied on the basis of disability, the guidance says.

Classroom Placement

Placement is also an issue. OCR said it expects schools address bullying behavior to ensure that the burden does not fall on the student with a disability. Schools should exercise caution when considering a change in placement, or the location of services (including classroom) provided to the student with a disability who is the target of bullying. Schools should keep the student in the original placement unless the student can no longer receive services in that classroom, the guidance says. OCR also urges schools to allow for parental participation when considering any change in placement or location of services (including classroom).


The good news is that DoEd has made a robust funding stream available to address some of these concerns and help schools eliminate bullying.

The new Now Is The Time and School Climate Transformation grants can go toward anti-bullying as well as supporting a safe, healthy school environment, says Jo Ann Webb, a DoEd official.

The new Now is the Time competition distributes up to $110 million in discretionary grants to schools and school districts. The Project Prevent Grants (CFDA Number 84.184M) help LEAs in communities with pervasive violence break the cycle of violence. Grants to States for School Emergency Management (CFDA Number 84.184Q) are capacity building grants to help states improve their outreach and technical assistance in improving school-level emergency operations plans. Those competitions normally have deadlines in June.

There are other grants available. They are:

  • School Climate Transformation Grants-States: (CFDA Number 84.184F; $7.4 million for 18 awards) to help create positive school climates that support effective education for all students. Funds support the use of multi-tiered decision-making frameworks, which research shows can be effective in reducing problem behaviors, decreasing bullying and peer victimization, improving organizational health and perceptions of school as a safe setting, and increasing academic performance in reading and math. States and state education departments would be eligible.
  • School Climate Transformation Grants-LEAs: (CFDA Number 84.184G; $23.6 million for 118 awards) for one-time grants to SEAs to help their LEAs develop, implement, and improve emergency management plans designed to enable districts and schools to prepare for, prevent and mitigate, respond to, and recover from emergencies and crisis events.

Contact: Webb,

About Frank Klimko

Frank Klimko is a nationally known journalist, grants expert and speech writer/speaker. He has years of experience helping nonprofits devise lists of the right funding opportunities and secure funding from these foundations and corporate entities. Clients have focused on an array of areas including child care, homeless, hunger and K-12 education. Additionally, he is a Freedom of Information Act expert, who has helped numerous clients with securing proprietary information from the federal government. Currently, Frank Klimko writes the Children & Youth Funding Report and Private Grants Alert, which are Washington DC-based publications. CYF is a daily publication covering Congress, the Education Dept. and the various federal regulatory agencies. PGA, another daily publication, covers the world of private philanthropy.
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