The Department of Education on Tuesday sent out detailed guidance to schools across the country outlining how schools should react to kids who bully people with disabilities, including ADHD and food allergies.
The 13-page letter was offered to remind schools that "bullying is wrong," and that schools that federal laws require them to ensure bullying does not get in the way of kids' education. It also offers examples of the correct way schools should act to avoid violations of these.
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has released new guidance for how schools are required to deal with bullying against kids with food allergies and other disabilities. (Photo by Diane Bondareff/Invision for The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation/AP Images)
One of these examples outlines eight separate steps that should be taken by schools when kids are bullied for having food allergies. The example envisions a seven-year-old student who is teased for having a peanut allergy.
It imagines that on a bus ride home, another child grabs the allergic child's water bottle and drinks from it, and says "I had a peanut butter sandwich for lunch today, and I just finished it."
Then, at lunch the next day, kids taunt her by yelling "Time to eat peanuts!" which prompts her to cry and makes her scared to go back to the lunchroom.
The guidance then envisions all the correct steps that should be taken to ensure the allergic child is not deprived of a "free appropriate public education."
According to the guidance, the teacher must first confirm whether she came into contact with any of the peanut-laced food. The next several steps involve intervention by the school principal.
"The teacher promptly informs the principal of the incidents, and the peers who taunted the student on the bus and in the lunchroom are removed from the lunchroom, interviewed by the assistant principal, and required to meet with the counselor during recess to discuss the seriousness of their conduct," it said.
The guidance indicated that designated bullying experts at the school should then meet to discuss whether any changes are needed to help the student after the incidents.
"The principal also meets with the school counselor, and they decide that a segment on the bullying of students with disabilities, including students with food allergies, would be added to the counselor's presentation to students on the school's anti-bullying policy scheduled in the next two weeks," it said. "Furthermore, in light of the young age of the students, the counselor offers to incorporate a puppet show into the segment to help illustrate principles that might otherwise be too abstract for such a young audience."
After all of that, in this hypothetical example, the allergic child shows no changes in academic performance or behavior, and the bullying has stopped.
"In this example, based on the school’s appropriate response to the incidents of bullying, OCR would not find a disability-based harassment violation under Section 504," it concluded, referring to a section of the Rehabilitation Act.
The guidance provides another example in which a school didn't do enough to protect a child with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder who is teased at gym. That example said it's not enough to have the gym teacher pull the child and say he needs to work on "getting his head in the game."
In another example, the guidance describes a child with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder who is mocked for being poor, and the school takes no steps to address this bullying.
The letter broadly reiterates that under federal law, schools have an obligation to "address conduct that may constitute a disability-based harassment violation." Federal law requires schools receiving federal assistance to prohibit disability discrimination, and the guidance notes that schools must take "immediate and appropriate action" to determine what happened in cases related to bullying.
"If a school's investigation reveals that bullying based on disability created a hostile environment… the school must take prompt and effective steps reasonably calculated to end the bullying, eliminate the hostile environment, prevent it from recurring, and, as appropriate, remedy its effects," the letter said.
It also said schools must monitor the performance of disabled students to ensure that bullying episodes don't hurt their chances of getting an education.