Bullying: Stop It, Fix It, Prevent ItOctober 27, 2010
On October 26, the Department of Education sent a letter to the nation’s schools offering guidance on bullying and harassment. In the letter, Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Russlynn Ali tells schools (elementary through university) that under current civil rights laws, they are responsible for stopping, fixing, and preventing bullying.
AAUW strongly supports the letter’s message. School bullying has been in the news lately, with the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry reporting that close to half of all children are bullied at some point while they are at primary or secondary school. Another recent study revealed that half of all U.S. high school students say they have bullied or teased another student at least once in the past year, and nearly half say they have been bullied in that time. This new guidance makes it clear that schools are responsible for addressing and preventing bullying.
The letter also clarifies that bullying can be a Title IX (discrimination based on sex), Title VI (discrimination based on race, color, or national origin), or Section 504 (discrimination based on disability) violation. If a school fails to recognize and address discriminatory harassment or treatment, it can be held responsible for violating students’ civil rights.
The label used to describe an incident such as bullying, hazing, or teasing does not determine how a school is obligated to respond. Instead, the conduct itself must be assessed. So if the abuse is based on race, color, national origin, sex, or disability and creates a hostile environment, a school is obligated to respond to, address, and end the abuse. However, school officials should look beyond just disciplining the perpetrators, because the Department of Education calls on school staff to eliminate the hostile environment created by the harassment, address its effects, and take steps to ensure that harassment does not reoccur.
Tuesday’s letter is just one step, but it’s a much-needed step in the effort to stop, fix, and prevent bullying. In addition to supporting this department guidance, AAUW urges Congress to pass additional laws to prevent and respond to bullying and harassment.