Thursday, October 28, 2010

Dear Colleague Letter from Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Russlynn Ali

Dear Colleague Letter

Page 1

October 26, 2010

Dear Colleague:

In recent years, many state departments of education and local school districts have taken steps to reduce bullying in schools. The U.S. Department of Education (Department) fully supports these efforts. Bullying fosters a climate of fear and disrespect that can seriously impair the physical and psychological health of its victims and create conditions that negatively affect learning, thereby undermining the ability of students to achieve their full potential. The movement to adopt anti-bullying policies reflects schools’ appreciation of their important responsibility to maintain a safe learning environment for all students. I am writing to remind you, however, that some student misconduct that falls under a school’s anti-bullying policy also may trigger responsibilities under one or more of the federal antidiscrimination laws enforced by the Department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR). As discussed in more detail below, by limiting its response to a specific application of its anti-bullying disciplinary policy, a school may fail to properly consider whether the student misconduct also results in discriminatory harassment.

Link to full letter HERE.

1 comment:

LegalBeaglette said...

“And, of course, even when bullying or harassment is not a civil rights violation, schools should still seek to prevent it in order to protect students from the physical and emotional harms that it may cause.”

I would like that in boldface type and underlined, please.

Unless there is a clear statement of federal protection, I fear a lot of bullying will still be treated dismissively by the schools: the obedient, the shy, the nerdy, the less fashionable, the students who are physically dissimilar to their peers, the bright, etc. will continue to be victims. And let me be blunt here: Adults bully, too.

I am mindful of the fact that this is a school system that hiccupped badly over things so simple as a bolo tie and senior photo attire. Sports team hazing was (I assure you) common until it was specifically prohibited, and tolerated for a while even then until a parent brought the legal process to bear. I am mindful of the staffer who thought it reasonable to put a young female and her male harasser in the same room together – just the two of them – and shut the door. I am mindful of the staffer who acknowledged hearing a student threaten physical violence…and ignored it.

My point is this: individually and collectively, this school system has struggled to deal with some rather straightforward issues of harassment and civil rights. While I believe the current attention on bullying is a good thing, I do not want its “wrongness,” and the school’s responsibility to address it appropriately, determined by whether the conduct “implicates the civil rights laws.”