Feds Warn Schools to Get Tougher on Bullying and Civil Rights Violations

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In a rare move, the Department of Education is sending out a 10-page letter today to thousands of school districts, colleges and universities, to make sure they are complying with federal rules to prevent bullying and harassment. They warn that some types of bullying may actually be discriminatory  harassment under the Civil Rights Act.

The letter clarifies when student bullying may violate federal education anti-discrimination laws. It explains educator’s legal obligations to protect students from the following kinds of harassment and bullying.

  • Racial and national orientation
  • Sexual and gender-based
  • Disability

The letter provides examples of harassment and explains how schools should respond to each case. Here’s one example:

Some students anonymously inserted offensive notes into African-American students’ lockers and notebooks, used racial slurs, and threatened African-American students who tried to sit near them in the cafeteria.  Some African-American students told school officials that they did not feel safe at school.  The school investigated and responded to individual instances of misconduct by assigning detention to the few student perpetrators it could identify.  However, racial tensions in the school continued to escalate to the point that several fights broke out between the school’s racial groups.

The Department of Education suggests that in addition to punishing the perpetrators, the school should have:

  • Recognized that a racially hostile environment had been created.
  • Done more than just discipline the few individuals involved.
  • Publicized ways to report allegations of racial harassment.
  • Trained faculty on constructive responses to racial conflict.
  • Hosted class discussions about racial harassment and sensitivity to students of other races.
  • Conducted outreach to involve parents and students to improve the school climate.

This letter is coming out just days after President Obama posted his anti-bullying message on youtube.

To view the 10-page letter, click here.

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