Betcha Didn't Know
Betcha Didn’t Know are a series of light-hearted posts to teach basic advocacy tips.
Betcha Didn't KnowBETCHA DIDN'T KNOW that it is National Bullying Prevention Month and children with disabilities are three times more likely to be bullied than non-disabled children. Schools will have you believe that bullying only happens like it does in the movies and usually leads to visible signs of its occurrence: bruises, scratches, teachers seeing it happen, etc. In reality, bullying has far more reach than it ever did when we grew up. Back in the day, you could find yourself a Mr. Miyagi, confront your bully with a crane kick, and eventually the bully backed down. Today, with social media, bullying is a ghost--haunting your child from behind a computer or cell phone. The emotional bruises from cyberbullying go far deeper than any black eye and are much less visible. Bullying a disabled child, who is already struggling to integrate into the school environment, leads to severe depression, anxiety, and in extreme cases suicide and school shootings.
I recently had a case where two special education children were being cyberbullied. The parents sent hundreds of pages of e-mails to the school principal. The principal took little action, stating that the school could not discipline students for off-campus behavior. The principal was trying to use outdated law that existed prior to 2013 when cyberbullying laws had no teeth. Now in California, schools have the power to reach outside school hours to identify and prevent bullying. After we wrote the appropriate letter to the district, all bullying ceased and the children are no longer subject to the daily ridicule of their bullies. As for the principal, I think I saw him outside the district waxing cars...
Do's & Dont'sDon't: Do not allow the school to transform your claim of bullying into one of common teasing. While most school experiences involve some measure of teasing between children, there is a difference between teasing and bullying, as bullying happens more than once. Kids are quite resilient and when they feel bullied it is definitely worth investigating.
Do: Write a letter to the school detailing the bullying that is occurring. Bullying a child in special education can potentially involve state educational and criminal laws, in addition to four different federal statutes: The Americans with Disabilities Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act, and Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972 (sexual harassment). The best way to invoke your rights under any of the laws is to put the school on formal notice of your concerns regarding the bullying. This is done by writing a Gebser letter--named after the 1998 Supreme Court decision Gebser v. Lago Vista School District.
These cases can get quite complicated if you have to go beyond writing a Gebser letter. By putting the school on notice you start a paper trail of your attempts to get the school involved. From there, an attorney has much more firepower to resolve your case swiftly.
Now I KnowNOW I KNOW that the school is required to protect children from bullying, even if it is happening off-campus. Once the school has notice, they must take the appropriate measures to stop bullying. When it comes to bullying be proactive and not reactive--it'll save you the trouble of teaching your kid the crane kick!