Fed to schools: Law requires actions against bullying

The U.S. Department of Education is issuing guidance to school officials today (October 26), reminding them that federal law requires schools to take action against bullying—including gender-based and sexual harassment of LGBT students.

Russlynn Ali
Russlynn Ali

The U.S. Department of Education is issuing guidance to school officials today (October 26), reminding them that federal law requires schools to take action against bullying—including gender-based and sexual harassment of LGBT students.

This is the first time the department has detailed the responsibilities educators have to protect LGBT students against such harassment, which is forbidden by Title IX and enforced by the department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR). Title IX prohibits discrimination “based on sex” in federally funded programs.

“We think this could not be any more timely or important,” said Russlynn Ali, Assistant Secretary for OCR, at a press briefing Monday. “If students don’t feel safe in school, they simply cannot learn.”

The announcement comes after widespread media coverage in September and October of a string of bullying-related suicides by LGBT students or those perceived to be. But it also fulfills a promise to issue such guidance –a promise made by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in early August at the department’s first-ever Bullying Prevention Summit.

The 10 pages of guidance make clear that, although current laws enforced by OCR do not explicitly address harassment based on sexual orientation, they do prohibit sexual harassment and gender-based harassment directed at LGBT students or those perceived to be.

The approach is similar to that taken by the administration elsewhere. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in July issued guidance explaining how gender and disability discrimination protections may cover gender-identity discrimination or discrimination based on real or perceived HIV/AIDS status—even though the Fair Housing Act (FHA) does not explicitly cover sexual orientation- or gender identity-based housing discrimination.

The U.S. Justice Department also intervened in January in the case of a New York teen who was bullied and physically hurt for being effeminate. Justice Department lawyers argued that the federal law against gender-based discrimination also applied to gender expression. In an out-of-court settlement, the school district agreed to pay the boy $50,000, legal fees, and the cost of therapy.

Tuesday’s guidance is being issued in the form of a “Dear Colleague” letter from Ali to administrators at all public and private schools, colleges, and universities, including the country’s 15,000 school superintendents. It reminds them of their obligations to protect students from discrimination based on sex (Title IX), race, color, or national origin (Title VI), and disability (Section 504 and Title II), all statutes enforced by OCR.

The Department also plans to hold workshops around the country in early 2011 to train educators about their obligations and the resources available to help them.

Kevin Jennings, Assistant Deputy Secretary for the Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools (OSDFS) at the Department of Education, said at the press briefing that they would also be conducting a grassroots campaign to inform educators and others through community-based groups and the Web site Bullyinginfo.org.

If schools violate the anti-discrimination laws enforced by OCR, said Ali, the Department could withdraw all federal funds or place conditions upon them. She noted, however, that the Department has not done so with any school district in the last decade, for any type of civil rights violation, “because they usually come into compliance during negotiation.”

She also noted that the Department has not received any complaints in recent years on LGBT harassment. But Jennings suggested the lack of complaints may have been “because people have not seen federal authorities as a receptive audience” and because of the lack of a federal civil rights law that includes sexual orientation.

The guidance is the latest in a series of Department of Education moves to address school bullying—moves initiated even before the recent suicides. In addition to the August 2010 Summit, the Department in 2009 formed a federal task force on bullying, with representatives from the Departments of Justice, Health and Human Services (HHS), Agriculture, Defense, and Interior.

The Department also announced October 4 the awarding of $36 million in grants to 11 states from a new Safe and Supportive Schools program. The states must survey students, family, and staff about school safety issues, including bullying, and direct grant money at the problems where students say there is the biggest need.

It has also worked with HHS on a Stop Bullying Now campaign that is being expanded from middle school students to elementary school students.

And early next year, the White House plans to host a conference to raise awareness about bullying and harassment and share resources for students, parents, educators, and others.

Two bills in Congress, however, seek to provide greater protection for LGBT students, beyond bullying that is based on sexual harassment or gender stereotyping. The Student Nondiscrimination Act (SNDA) would prohibit discrimination—including harassment—on the basis of real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity in any program receiving federal funds. The Safe Schools Improvement Act (SSIA) would require schools receiving federal funds to implement and report on LGBT-inclusive anti-bullying programs. Versions of both bills are still pending in House and Senate committees.

Federal departments and their employees are prohibited by law from lobbying Congress about specific legislation, but Ali said Monday that the Department supports the goals of both bills. She said that, as the Department works to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the major act guiding educational policy, “we will certainly use all of the policy tools within our disposal to try and prevent this kind of harassment from occurring.”

She noted that the guidance issued Tuesday is “about using the tools within our disposal now.”

Jennings said the new guidance was the first step to letting people know that, “in this administration, we plan to apply the letter of the law to the fullest extent of the law in order to extend the greatest level of protections humanly possible to LGBT students.”

11 thoughts on “Fed to schools: Law requires actions against bullying”

  1. The article says:

    “Two bills in Congress, however, seek to provide greater protection for LGBT students, beyond bullying that is based on sexual harassment or gender stereotyping. The Student Nondiscrimination Act (SNDA) would prohibit discrimination—including harassment—on the basis of real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity in any program receiving federal funds.”

    It is not clear to me what exactly the protections based on sexual harassment for gender stereotyping cover. They seem to mostly cover transsexuals.

    What exactly would the difference be between protection against harassment based on gender stereotyping and that based upon perceptions of sexual preference?

    This is a very important question to me since I am suffering from harassment in Section 8 housing based upon perceptions of my sexual preference, and the new HUD rules don’t appear to protect me, although HUD should devise rules which do.

  2. MY GRAND DAUGHTER HAS BEEN HARRASSED BY ANOTHER STUDENT FOR MORE THEN THREE WEEKS. WELL, IT FINALLY CAME TO BLOWS. MY GRAND DAUGHTER DEFENDED HERSELF… PRINCIPAL SAYS CHARGES CAN NOT BE FILED DUE TO THE FACT THAT SHE DEFENDED HERSESELF… STATED THAT OTHER CHILD WOULD BE SUSPENDED… SHE IS BACK IN SCHOLL AND THREATENING MY GRAND DAUGHTER AGAIN… PRINCIPAL STATED THAT MY GRAND DAUGHTER SHOULD NOT HAVE DEFENDED HERSELF AND NOTHING WOULD HAVE HAPPENED… THIS PASADENA SCHOOL DISTRICT.. HERE IN PASADENA TEXAS… PLEASE MY GRAND DAUGHTER IS AN HONOR ROLL STUDENT IN THE GIFTED AND TALENTED PROGRAM… SHE IS ALSO IN A PROGRAM THAT HELPS HER TO PREPARE FOR COLLEGE AS SHE STATED SHE DOEN’T WANT TO MESS HER CHANCES FOR COLLEGE… SHE IS 12 YRS OLD AND IN THE 6TH GRADE… PLEASE HELP US BEFORE IT GET SO FAR OUT OF HAND…

  3. my daughter was assaulted on wed the 27th by 2 girls she was kicked adout 15 times in the back around 11;20 to 12;pm i picked her up from school at 3pm for a dr. appointment the kick marks were still on her back the police said i cant file charges due to the unwritten rule with the school board as of now nothing has been done not even a work from the princial at school the adminsteral said the school would have to bring the charged if i put mark on her i would be in jail that day this has been going on all year my daughter is a a/b student in school and does not have anything to with the kids in school due to her communtiy activites she does i need some answer as to where to go for help

  4. My daughter is in the 5th grade and is being bullied by another 5th grade girl. For the past two weeks I have dealt with nightmares, not wanting to go to school. The girl has wrote a death threat note, punched her in the face, repeated hit her in the back of the head. The school refuses to put the girl in another class, stating its not school policy. The police are charging her with assult, but because of her age nothing will be done. What am I suppose to do to protect my daughter? I need Help!!!!!

  5. Are any of you getting any answers, any help what so ever. What I am reading in the replays is heart breaking, and gut wrenching. Please let me know if your getting any help with the bullying problems. Something has got to be done. The more people we get behind the issue the more our voice will be heard.

  6. My 8 year old son, and my 6 year old dauther are being bullied in school and on the bus. They have been hit and called names. The hitting and pushing got so bad with my son that a little boy pushed him so hard that he hit his head and he had a mild consusion. We have spoken to the school, and they checked on the situation. They called it boys being boys. They children on the bus pull their hair and punch them and I have told the bus driver and the school consuler. They tell me that they have spoken to the children involved but still not any changes in the behavior. The bullies have begun to call my little boy gay, and all these things that are going on my children do not want to go to school. They cry and are upset almost everyday. I have no idea what eles to do to make any changes. This just makes me so angry. What should I do next?

  7. My 11 year o d daughter is being bullied by 3 mean girls in 6th grade. One of the pushed my daughter n my kid gets to spend the next few weeks yes weeks eating her lunch in office. Now these girls have told her they were gonna kill her and shoulder/shove her everyday in gym. The bus o boy one constantly picks on her n threatens her all the time, and only my daughter gwts in trouble!! Im in need of help and legal action I can take to help my daughter before its too laye. Shes allready sad worried and depressed over this bullcrap. Thank you.

  8. april 19,2012 i reported a bullying situation that happened on the with my daughter , when i spoke to the principle he assured me that he was going to handle the little girl that was bullying my daughter. that after noon on 4/19 on the bus the girl that was bullying my child got upset with my child because she wouldn’t give her no snack and kicked my child .the next day on 4-20-12 i went to the school to confront the principle and to let him know that because he failed to do his job the bully kicked her and left a bruise on leg the principle looked at me shrugged his shoulders and said ‘AND” . after that on that same day a little boy put a weapon to her neck and told her ‘Nigga i will cut the shit out of you” that same morning . the principle didn’t tell me while i was there, my child sat in a seperate office for 30min scared and crying. the principle was already of the problem because he had the weapon, i only found out because i went back to the school to get my child out of class. the principle didn’t contact the little boy’s mother, he failed to contact the resource officer, and he failed to contact the board of education. he had no concern for my childs safety at all he was cold hearted about the situation , i myself had to contact the boy’s parent and the resource officer and the board of education. After talking to the superitendant at the board before i left he knew my name and everything about me and he still adressed me as “Hey Girl” i found that to be very disrespectfull.

  9. My 11 year old son is in the 5th grade and has been dealing with a bully, almost twice his size, and it’s been going on for over a month now, or longer. The bully has been wanting to fight my son, and has asked him to fight him, but my son told him that he didn’t want to. Yesterday, December 3, 2012, that bully and 3 other boys followed my son into the school bathroom to harass and fight him. The 3 boys blocked the bathroom door so my son couldn’t leave, and they would push my son away from the door, and onto the bully. The bully kept hitting him on the head. Out of many hits from the bully, my son had only hit back once, and that was out of self defense. Finally a teacher passed through, and saw the 3 boys blocking the bathroom door. They all got suspended for 3 days, including my son. The principle told me that because my son hit back that one time, then he had to be suspended, too. My son is a really good, sweet kid, who only wants to fit in with the rest of his peers. He’s the nicest kid that you could ever meet, and he would try to do anything for you. He would be a great friend to anybody who gave him a chance. It breaks my heart for him to have to go through something like this, and for no reason at all. He doesn’t cause any trouble, or provoke this kind of behavior from other kids. There has to be something that I can do about this. Where is the justice?? It could have been a lot worse. Those boys could have had a weapon, and my son could have been seriously injured or killed. I refuse to sit back and allow my son to be treated this violently. Is there any legal action that will help me solve this problem? I need an answer, before it’s too late. Thank you.

  10. Ok wow so Im not alone. Did any of you get answers anyone!! We have been dealing with a bullying situation with the local YMCA. I have been told I have no recourse because they are a private entity. I have no idea what or where to go — I have called the local County atty office and never get a call back. We are going to take it to the board of the YMCA but fear that we will lose our membership and my daughter will have no place to continue to swim. She is a very good swimmer in top 20 in the state in her event. What do I do who do I talk to how do I make it stop and how do I convence them to do something about it! Please someone help me and all these other parents!!
    AnnA

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