Bullying of Special Education Students

Jeffrey A. Gottlieb – Special Needs Attorney

Special education children are uniquely vulnerable to bullying by other students, specifically because of their disabilities. Bullying is much different than the infrequent physical altercation between two students. Bullying is about a stronger student, who physically or verbally abuses a weaker student on a continuous basis. The bully uses his superior physical and cognitive abilities as a source of power to control and humiliate the weaker student.

As stated above, bullies tend to seek out the student who is less able to defend himself or herself; often resulting in special education students being particular targets of such abuse. Accordingly, educational authorities have come to realize that bullying is a destructive occurrence interfering with the emotional growth of children as well as impacting a child’s educational program. In fact, extreme bullying can rise to a level of a hate crime.

The California Legislature addressed the bullying issue by amending the Education Code, section 35294.2, requiring the California Department of Education to develop a sample bullying policy for school districts.

The following are some actions a school district should take, when a bullying situation arises:

  • The parents of the bully and the bullied student will be contacted and made aware of the situation.
  • The bullied child will be re-assured that steps will be taken to protect him.
  • If necessary psychological counseling will be provided to the bullied child; focusing on building social skills and confidence.
  • The bully will be informed of the consequences of his actions, which may include detention, suspension, and expulsion as well as involving law enforcement.
  • Under no circumstances is the bullied student to be punished for the actions of the bully.

If a bullied student is severely injured by a bully, the school district may find itself financially responsible to the bullied student. This will occur where a school district is aware of a bullying situation and fails to take appropriate precautions to stop the bullying. Every school district has a duty to prevent dangerous practices that are likely to result in a physical injury to a student. Additionally, school districts have a distinct duty to protect special education students from abuse by bullies. In a recent case, a California school district knew that a student was bullying a disabled student and failed to take appropriate interventions. Eventually, the bully sexually abused the disabled student. The school district was successfully sued by the special education student and his parents [Panama Buena Vista Union School District 110 Cal.App4th 508, 2003].

If you are aware of a special education student being bullied; immediately have the family contact the school district. If the school district refuses to take appropriate action, then contact a special education attorney.

For more information regarding special education legal matters go to: www.specialeducationattorneyatlaw.com

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