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(15.12) Does Section 504 protect my child against bullying at school?

(15.12) Does Section 504 protect my child against bullying at school?

Yes. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act as well as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibit any intimidation or abusive behavior related to a student’s disability that creates a hostile environment for the student and causes her to lose education, services, and activities for which she is eligible. To be illegal, the behavior must be severe, persistent, and pervasive. However, a one-time conduct can violate the law if it is very severe. [Dear Colleagues Letter, 111 LRP 45106 (OCR 07/25/00).]

Harassment can occur in different forms – verbal; nonverbal, and physically threatening, harmful and humiliating, and can be present even if the student does not show a tangible effect. Disparaging comments, obstructing accessible paths, inappropriate physical restraints and denial of school activities such as field trips and school assembly could all be unlawful harassment if they meet the criteria. [Dear Colleagues Letter, 55 IDELR 174 (OCR 2010).]

Once the school or the educational agency knows or should know about the harassment/bullying, it must take the following actions promptly:

  1. Investigate the incident or allegation;
  2. Act to remedy the impact of the harassment on the student, which may include compensatory services for denial of a free and appropriate public education;
  3. Ensure the behavior will not recur; which can include providing counseling to the student who was harassed and the person(s) responsible for the harassment;
  4. Ensure that the hostile environment is ended by taking schoolwide or districtwide actions such as establishing and disseminating an anti-harassment policy, creating an effective grievance process, training to staff and students and a monitoring protocol. [Los Angeles (CA) Unified Sch. Dist., (OCR 2007).]

If your child has been bullied due to her disability, you may file a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at the U.S. Department of Education against your school district. See Chapter 16 Information on Section 504 and Disability-Based Discrimination.