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OCR: Office for Civil Rights
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Dear Colleague Letter

OFFICE OF THE ASSISTANT SECRETARY



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environment and its effects, and prevent the harassment from recurring.  These duties are a school’s responsibility even if the misconduct also is covered by an anti-bullying policy, and regardless of whether a student has complained, asked the school to take action, or identified the harassment as a form of discrimination.

Appropriate steps to end harassment may include separating the accused harasser and the target, providing counseling for the target and/or harasser, or taking disciplinary action against the harasser.  These steps should not penalize the student who was harassed.  For example, any separation of the target from an alleged harasser should be designed to minimize the burden on the target’s educational program (e.g., not requiring the target to change his or her class schedule). 

In addition, depending on the extent of the harassment, the school may need to provide training or other interventions not only for the perpetrators, but also for the larger school community, to ensure that all students, their families, and school staff can recognize harassment if it recurs and know how to respond.  A school also may be required to provide additional services to the student who was harassed in order to address the effects of the harassment, particularly if the school initially delays in responding or responds inappropriately or inadequately to information about harassment.  An effective response also may need to include the issuance of new policies against harassment and new procedures by which students, parents, and employees may report allegations of harassment (or wide dissemination of existing policies and procedures), as well as wide distribution of the contact information for the district’s Title IX and Section 504/Title II coordinators.11 

Finally, a school should take steps to stop further harassment and prevent any retaliation against the person who made the complaint (or was the subject of the harassment) or against those who provided information as witnesses.  At a minimum, the school’s responsibilities include making sure that the harassed students and their families know how to report any subsequent problems, conducting follow-up inquiries to see if there have been any new incidents or any instances of retaliation, and responding promptly and appropriately to address continuing or new problems. 

When responding to incidents of misconduct, schools should keep in mind the following:

  • The label used to describe an incident (e.g., bullying, hazing, teasing) does not determine how a school is obligated to respond.  Rather, the nature of the conduct itself must be assessed for civil rights implications.  So, for example, if the abusive behavior is on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, or disability, and creates a hostile environment, a school is obligated to respond in accordance with the applicable federal civil rights statutes and regulations enforced by OCR.

  • When the behavior implicates the civil rights laws, school administrators should look beyond simply disciplining the perpetrators.  While disciplining the perpetrators is likely a necessary step, it often is insufficient.  A school’s responsibility is to eliminate the

11 Districts must designate persons responsible for coordinating compliance with Title IX, Section 504, and Title II, including the investigation of any complaints of sexual, gender-based, or disability harassment.  See 28 C.F.R. § 35.107(a); 34 C.F.R. § 104.7(a); 34 C.F.R. § 106.8(a).


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Last Modified: 10/26/2010