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The Terrible Toll of Bullying and Harassment on the special needs child

While there is broad agreement by school officials and parents that bullying and harassment are unconscionable, they continue to be an intolerable fact of life for many school children, especially for students with special needs.

Children with special needs frequently suffer from bullying or harassment

Any child can be a victim of bullying or harassment, but research has shown that children with disabilities are more likely to be bullied or harassed and more likely to be seriously harmed by it. Compounding this problem is that children with special needs are less likely to be able to seek help to stop it.

The Office for Civil Rights acknowledges the profound impact of bullying and harassment on children with disabilities

Back in 2000, the United States Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR) and the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services issued a joint statement regarding harassment of students in schools based on disability. The joint statement acknowledges that disability harassment can have a "profound impact on students, raise safety concerns, and erode efforts to ensure these students have equal access to the benefits an education offers." 


Since then, OCR has issued additional guidance on bullying and harassment of children with disabilities in schools, describing it as a pervasive problem. 

School districts may deny a child a FAPE by failing to appropriately address bullying or harassment

If the bullying or harassment of a student with a disability causes the student not to receive meaningful educational benefit, it can constitute a denial of a free appropriate public education (FAPE) under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). 

Bullying and harassment may constitute discrimination

In addition, bullying and harassment of public school children with special needs may violate Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, which protects people with disabilities from discrimination. 

What to do if your child is being bullied or harassed

If your special needs child is being bullied or harassed at school, there are several things you can do:

  • Be sure to keep a written record of the incidents

  • Contact your child's school principal, the Superintendent, or the 504 Coordinator to discuss the matter 

  • Call for an IEP team meeting or a 504 meeting

  • Consider filing a California Uniform Complaint with the school district

  • Consider filing a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights

  • Consider filing a due process complaint

  • Consider hiring an advocate or an attorney for help

If you need help, call Education Attorney Molly Watson at 530-273-2740.

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