Protecting Special Education Students from Bullying
Bullying in schools continues to be a problem. The unwelcome aggressive actions associated with bullying are known to affect the emotional health of the victim. Children attending special education classes may be the target of this behavior, leaving deep emotional scars.
Types of Bullying
Verbal bullying: Verbal bullying could consist of name-calling, teasing, mimicking, taunting, laughter, scorn, threats, and other kinds of verbal abuse.
- Social bullying: Enlisting other students to disparage special education students, such as scorning a friendly or helpful student, spreading rumors, or embarrassing a special education student by verbal bullying in front of classmates.
- Physical bullying: Harming another student physically, such as hitting, punching, pushing, pinching, tripping, slapping, or spitting. Physical bullying can include snatching or breaking the student’s possessions or using rude hand gestures.
- Cyberbullying: Students texting, posting on social media, or using email content to taunt, disparage, or tease a special education student.
What is Disability Harassment?
The Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights, defines disability harassment as conduct that creates a hostile environment for students with disabilities, limiting them from participating in school activities or the opportunity to gain the many benefits of these activities.
Is Your Child Being Bullied? Watch for the Signs.
If you notice negative changes in your child’s behavior, it may be a sign that he or she is a victim of bullying at school. Some of the signs to watch for include:
- Physical injuries such as cuts, bruises
- Refusing to talk about what is wrong
- Aggressive or unreasonable behavior
- Appears insecure or frightened
- Lost possessions
- The child does not want to go to school or frequently fakes symptoms of illness
- Changes in eating habits
- Trouble sleeping, nightmares
- Reduced self-esteem, feelings of worthlessness
- Grades declining, lost schoolwork, books, etc.
- No interest in attending school social events
- Self-destructive behaviors, such as self-harm, threatening suicide, running away from home
Law Protecting Children from Disability Harassment
Under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act,) bullying is illegal and a form of discrimination. Other laws addressing bullying include Title IV and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) All students have a right to participate in all aspects of the school experience without discrimination and harassment. Schools are required to address and resolve any such activities.
Your Child’s Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) and Bullying
The right goals in your child’s IEP can help them with any instances of bullying. A comprehensive IEP plan should include teaching children the best tools to enhance social skills, speech skills, and how to recognize and deal with bullying at school. The IEP plan should cover self-advocacy, methods to assist a child in speaking for themselves, gain an understanding of their rights, and who to turn to for help when bullying occurs. If a child is being bullied, report it to school personnel, follow up on the report to find out what was done to resolve the problem, and request an IEP meeting to discuss what is being done to protect your child’s right to learn in a safe and supportive environment,
What is the Responsibility of a Special Education Teacher?
Bullying goes beyond bad student behavior – it is abuse. When allowed to continue without intervention, bullying affects the student’s ability to learn and grow. When bullying is focused on a student’s disability, it is a form of harassment. A Special Education teacher must report the situation to school management so that actions are taken to stop the abuse.
If your child is harassed at school, report it to the school personnel. The school is required to intervene at once. When school personnel does not take action to ensure a child in special education classes is safe and free from abuse, it can become a legal matter. Schools have a legal obligation to address any conduct that is severe, pervasive, or persistent, leading to a hostile learning environment for special education students.
Evidence-Based Policies to Address Maltreatment of Special Ed Students
A range of evidence-based strategies can be effective in addressing student maltreatment. These practices include:
- School-based anti-bullying programs
- Multi-layered behavioral expectation strategies
- Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS)
- Tangible reinforcements for good behavior
- Peer-to-peer counseling
- Supervision and separation from bullies through shadowing
- Disciplining bullies by counseling, suspension, or expulsion
Why do Children with Disabilities Experience Maltreatment more than Other Children?
Children with disabilities are at a higher risk of being bullied. Factors such as physical vulnerability, developmental, intellectual, emotional, or sensory disabilities can make a child a target of abusive behavior. A bully generally targets others who appear less powerful, less strong, or different, which could be a smaller child, a child that looks different than others, or a child with disabilities. These behaviors must be addressed and stopped immediately when identified or reported by the student, teacher, or parents.
How can a Parent Get Help if a Special Education Child is a Victim of Bullying?
If you, as a parent, need help to protect your child from bullying, contact the Woodsmall Law Group at (626) 440-0028. Our compassionate special education attorneys can assist parents in addressing these issues with the school, school board, the IEP plan, and other strategies to create a positive, safe, rewarding educational experience.