Schools are obligated under federal law to stop bullying of disabled students, and the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights is taking an active role in reminding districts of their obligations to develop and enforce policies and procedures for preventing and addressing bullying of students with disabilities.
In a "Dear Colleague" letter, the US Department of Education said that under federal law, schools must act to halt bullying of students with disabilities, stepping in when such bullying is suspected, and prevent recurrence of bullying.
Education officials have noted what they call a "troubling trend" of "an ever-increasing number of complaints" concerning bullying of disabled students. The Education Department's Office for Civil Rights has received more than 2,000 complaints from across the country since 2009 concerning bullying issues of disabled students at public schools.
According to Catherine E. Lhamon, assistant secretary for civil rights at the Department of Education, "While there is broad consensus that bullying cannot be tolerated, the sad reality is that bullying persists in our schools today, especially for students with disabilities. Basic decency and respect demand that our schools ensure that all their students learn in a safe environment.”
Protections must be in place for all students with disabilities, whether they are served under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act or Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.
Schools must also act to ensure that bullying does not interfere with a student's ability to receive special education or other disability related services, whether or not the bullying incident is related to the student's disability.
The Department of Education has also previously told schools that bullying may lead to student's rights being denied under IDEA to a free and appropriate public education, as the result is "the student not receiving meaningful educational benefit.”