A r c h i v e d   I n f o r m a t i o n

Protecting Students from Harassment and Hate Crime: A Guide for Schools - January 1999


This Guide represents a joint effort of the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) of the United States Department of Education and the National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG) to provide elementary and secondary schools with practical guidance to help protect students from harassment and violence based on race, color, national origin, sex, and disability. The laws enforced by the U.S. Department of Education protect students from discrimination on these bases.1

The Guide may also be of assistance in protecting students from harassment based on sexual orientation, religion, or other grounds that are covered by state or local laws or that schools recognize as particularly damaging to their students.2

Too many students are hurt by harassment. In one survey, 68% of girls and 39% of boys, grades 8-11, reported sexual harassment. Another study indicated that 20% to 25% of students had been victimized in racial or ethnic incidents in the course of a school year.3 Frequently, a juvenile is either the offender or the victim in violent crimes motivated by racial and ethnic prejudice and sexual aggression.

Students may encounter harassment by other students or by teachers and other school employees. Students may also experience harassment by members of the public who are participating in school activities, such as spectators at athletic events. Harassment can encompass a range of harmful conduct,from the most violent crimes to episodes of vandalism or persistent and abusive name-calling among grade school students that may deprive students of equal educational opportunities. If ignored, harassment can jeopardize students' academic achievement, undermine their physical and emotional well-being, provoke retaliatory violence, damage the school's reputation, and exacerbate community conflicts.

This Guide provides a framework for developing policies and practices to prevent harassment and to respond to it effectively when it does occur. Such policies and practices should also assist school districts in avoiding legal claims.

Actions that are specifically required by current federal law are identified in the Guide. The Guide also recommends best practices to ensure an effective program. For detailed information on applicable federal civil rights requirements, readers should consult two guidance documents on racial and sexual harassment issued by the Office for Civil Rights.4 Many states also have laws that prohibit discrimination and harassment based on race, national origin, sex, disability, religion, or sexual orientation. In some cases, incidents of harassment may violate state, local, or federal criminal laws. For specific information on state and local laws applicable to harassment and hate crime, schools should consult the state attorney general and the department of education in their state. Because legal requirements can change as a result of new legislation and court decisions, users of this guidebook should consult agencies knowledgeable about civil rights laws from time to time for updated information. Schools should consult their own attorneys for specific legal advice.

Part I of this Guide the Fundamentals briefly explains the basic concepts and strategies that are part of a comprehensive approach to eliminating harassment and hate crime. Part II Step-by-Step Guidance elaborates upon the elements of an effective anti-harassment program that were introduced in Part I. The Appendices provide the names and addresses of organizations that have experience and expertise in addressing harassment and violence, gives examples of widely used educational materials and classroom techniques for preventing harassment and promoting tolerance, and identifies other resources for schools in developing effective anti-harassment programs.

The examples of anti-harassment policies and procedures presented for illustrative purposes are taken from existing state and local school policies. Inclusion of a particular policy in this document does not signify its endorsement by OCR, any other federal agency, or NAAG. Consideration of a range of such examples should assist schools in determining which methods and procedures will best support their district's anti-harassment policies and programs. As discussed further in this Guide, all anti-harassment policies should be written and applied in a manner that recognizes the First Amendment rights of students and employees.

[Acknowledgments] [Table of Contents] [Part I: The Fundamentals]