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OCR: Office for Civil Rights
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Dear Colleague Letter

OFFICE OF THE ASSISTANT SECRETARY



Page 9
    psychiatric evaluation, but did not discipline the offending students.  As a result, the harassment continued.  The student, who had been performing well academically, became angry, frustrated, and depressed, and often refused to go to school to avoid the harassment.
    In this example, the school failed to recognize the misconduct as disability harassment under Section 504 and Title II.  The harassing conduct included behavior based on the student’s disability, and limited the student’s ability to benefit fully from the school’s education program (e.g., absenteeism).  In failing to investigate and remedy the misconduct, the school did not comply with its obligations under Section 504 and Title II.
    Counseling may be a helpful component of a remedy for harassment.  In this example, however, since the school failed to recognize the behavior as disability harassment, the school did not adopt a comprehensive approach to eliminating the hostile environment.  Such steps should have at least included disciplinary action against the harassers, consultation with the district’s Section 504/Title II coordinator to ensure a comprehensive and effective response, special training for staff on recognizing and effectively responding to harassment of students with disabilities, and monitoring to ensure that the harassment did not resume. 18

I encourage you to reevaluate the policies and practices your school uses to address bullying19 and harassment to ensure that they comply with the mandates of the federal civil rights laws.  For your convenience, the following is a list of online resources that further discuss the obligations of districts to respond to harassment prohibited under the federal antidiscrimination laws enforced by OCR:

18 More information about the applicable legal standards and OCR’s approach to investigating allegations of disability harassment is included in OCR’s Dear Colleague Letter:  Prohibited Disability Harassment (July 25, 2000), available at http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/disabharassltr.html.
19 For resources on preventing and addressing bullying, please visit http://www.bullyinginfo.org, a Web site established by a federal Interagency Working Group on Youth Programs.  For information on the Department’s bullying prevention resources, please visit the Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools’ Web site at http://www.ed.gov/offices/OESE/SDFS.  For information on regional Equity Assistance Centers that assist schools in developing and implementing policies and practices to address issues regarding race, sex, or national origin discrimination, please visit http://www.ed.gov/programs/equitycenters.


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Last Modified: 10/26/2010