Students with disabilities have the right to attend school without being bullied. Schools must promptly and effectively address bullying against disabled students. But sometimes parents are not aware that their child is being bullied, or they don’t know what to do about it.
Here are 10 steps parents can take if you suspect your child is being bullied:
1) Understand what bullying is.
Parents may know something is wrong, but they may not always be aware that the conduct in question is, in fact, bullying. This is how bullying is defined in Virginia:
Bullying among children is commonly defined as intentional, repeated harmful acts, words, or other behavior such as name calling, threatening, and/or shunning committed by one or more children against another. These negative acts are not intentionally provoked by the victims, and for such acts to be defined as bullying, an imbalance in real or perceived power must exist between the bully and the victim.
The definition of bullying in the Code of Virginia is “any aggressive and unwanted behavior that is intended to harm, intimidate, or humiliate the victim; involves a real or perceived power imbalance between the aggressor or aggressors and victim; and is repeated over time or causes severe emotional trauma. ‘Bullying’ includes cyber bullying. ‘Bullying’ does not include ordinary teasing, horseplay, argument, or peer conflict.” (Code of Virginia § 22.1-276.01(A)).
Bullying may be physical, verbal, emotional, or sexual in nature.
Physical bullying includes punching, poking, strangling, hair pulling, beating, biting, and excessive tickling.
Verbal bullying includes such acts as hurtful name calling, teasing, and gossip.
Emotional bullying includes rejecting, terrorizing, extorting, defaming, humiliating, blackmailing, rating/ranking of personal characteristics such as race, disability or ethnicity, or manipulating friendships, isolating, ostracizing, and peer pressure.
2) Report every incident of bullying in writing.
Some school divisions have a bullying report form. A parent does not need to be sure that the conduct in question meets the definition of bullying in order to report it. Parents can file a complaint if they suspect bullying has occurred.
3) Read your school division’s policies and procedures for bullying. According to Arlington Public Schools’ procedures:
- School staff will intervene immediately if they witness or become aware of bullying.
- Parents of the child being bullied will be contacted within two school days of receipt of the complaint.
- Principals are responsible for investigating each complaint and taking appropriate corrective action.
- Interim measures may be put in place, as needed, during the investigation, such as class placement to avoid contact between parties, supports to address the victim’s social-emotional needs, convening a Student Support Team meeting to assess further possible actions, or referral to counseling.
- At the conclusion of the investigation, all involved parties will be notified of the results within two school days.
- Students who are victims of bullying will be protected against retaliation from the accused.
- Victims will be offered counseling services, as appropriate.
- The school shall monitor outcomes to ensure there is no retaliation or reoccurrence of the bullying behavior, and to ensure that the parties are receiving appropriate supports.
4) Follow up in writing to confirm school staff are taking the prescribed actions, as needed.
5) Keep a copy of all complaints and correspondence concerning the bullying.
6) Consider requesting an IEP or 504 meeting. An IEP team or 504 committee can determine whether additional or different services are needed to address a disabled child’s individualized needs, as a result of being subjected to bullying.
7) Parents may wish to request school records.
8) In some situations, a police report may be appropriate.
9) Parents can elevate the matter within their child’s school division if the bullying situation is not handled appropriately.
10) If these efforts are not successful, parents may wish to seek assistance from an organization listed on Pizer Law’s Resources page, or consult a special education attorney.