Friday, February 24, 2012

Bullying of Children With Disabilities - Part III

English: this is my own version of what bullyi...Image via Wikipedia

Bullying remains the hottest of hot button issues in special education law.  In an earlier installment, I explained the early cases laying the conceptual groundwork for the proposition that failure to react to bullying can constitute a denial of FAPE under IDEA.  In the last installment, I discussed the seminal decision of TK & SK ex rel LK v. New York City Dept of Educ 779 F.Supp.2d 289, 56 IDELR 228 (E.D.N.Y. 4/25/2011).  This case is important not just because it analyzes special education law principles involving bullying, but also because it provides a thorough review of the social science literature on bullying. You should read this case and you can do so here.

In this installment, I begin to review the literature on bullying.  Please note the court provided these words in its opinion. I cannot take credit for the analysis:

E. Bullying in America

Were bullying characterized as a disease affecting America's youth, a team from the Center for Disease Control charged with investigating epidemics would have been called in to study it. Joseph L. Wright, Address at American Medical Association Educational Forum on Adolescent Health: Youth Bullying 23 (2002), available at http://www. ("If [bullying] were a medical issue, for example an infectious disease in my pediatrics practice, we would have the Epidemic Intelligence Service people from the Centers for Control and Prevention investigate it. The prevalence and epidemiology is striking."). The problem is pervasive; it is perceived by educators as serious, particularly in the middle school years. Michaela Gulemetova, Darrel Drury, and Catherine P. Bradshaw, Findings Form the National Education Association's Nationwide Study of Bullying: Teachers' and Education Support Professionals' Perspectives, in White House Conference on Bullying Prevention, at 11-12 (March 10, 2011), available at http://www. ("Over 40 percent of [teachers and support staff surveyed] indicated that bullying was a moderate or major problem in their school, with 62 percent indicating that they witnessed two or more incidents of bullying in the last month, while 41 percent witnessed bullying once a week or more."). It is the most common type of violence in our schools. Macklem, supra, at 7.
The issue first seized the attention of the American public after the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School that killed fifteen students and wounded two dozen more. Susan P. Limber, Addressing Youth Bullying Behaviors, in American Medical Association Educational Forum on

Adolescent Health: Youth Bullying 5 (2002), available at http://www.amaassn. org/amal/pub/upload/mm/39/youthbullying. pdf. As part of the investigation that followed the Columbine massacre, the Secret Service examined thirty-seven shooting incidents. They determined that in two-thirds of those cases, the shooter described feeling bullied, persecuted, or threatened at school. Bill Dedman, Secret Service Findings Overturn Stereotypes, Chicago Sun-Times Report, Oct. 15-16, 2000, at 9; Limber, supra, at 5. "I just remember life not being much fun, a shooter recalls. Reject, retard, loser.' I remember stick boy a lot cause I was so thin." Dedman, supra, at 9.
More recently, stories of bullied victims taking their own lives have become common. See, e.g., John Schwartz, Bullying, Suicide and Punishment, N.Y. Times, Oct. 3, 2010, at Al (discussing the suicides of three teens as a result of online bullying); Limber, supra, at 5 (noting that internationally the study of bullying was triggered by the suicides of three young boys in Norway in the 1980s). Some one third of students are engaging in aggressive behavior directed at their peers, oftentimes with the goal of increasing their popularity. Tara Parker-Pope, Web of Popularity, Achieved by Bullying, N.Y. Times blog, (Feb. 14, 2011, 5:03 p.m.), available at web-of-popularity-weaved-bybullying/' scp=1&sq=Tara% 20ParkerPope% 20bully&st=cse.
National leaders and educators continue to work toward a solution. President Obama held a summit and announced new federal programs that aimed at "dispel[ing] the myth that bullying is just a harmless rite of passage or inevitable part of growing up." Jackie Calmes, Obama Focuses on Antibullying Efforts, N.Y. Times, March 10, 2011, at A18.
Presidential summits and school shootings achieve headlines, but the day-to-day adverse affects of bullying in damaging educational opportunities to students are as real as they are unnoticed. It is a problem that affects the school performance, emotional well-being, mental health, and social development of school children throughout the United States. Tonja R. Nansel et. al., Cross-national Consistency in the Relationship Between Bullying Behaviors and Psychosocial Adjustment, 158 Archive of Pediatric and Adolescent Med. 730, 733-35 (2004). Whether a child is the victim, aggressor, or merely a bystander, research shows that those in a close vicinity to bullying are adversely marked. Id. See also, Macklem, supra, at 44, 90-92.
Enhanced by Zemanta


  1. Hello-
    I am an Elementary SpEd teacher. I see bullying everyday and it breaks my heart. This school year I have gone in to two classes with the counselor and talked about bullying and SpEd students.

    I teach at a school that has adopted Olweus anti-bullying program. It has been successful at the elementary level. Each school year we have a “kick off” to celebrate our schools’ anti-bullying policies. The community is involved and every year the support grows.
    I agree that bullying has effects on students beyond physical and mental health of students. I personally know that I have a student who is being bullied daily, his grades are dropping, his self esteem, he hates coming to school. It truly breaks my heart. The students that are the bullies have been talked to numerous times; action has been taken at school. Now the bullies do it off school grounds or are becoming sneaky. Some of the hard things are when a teacher does not see what happens. It is one student’s word against the other. I am proud that my school has taken a no tolerance to bullying. We are trying to make a change. I do see that each year students become sneakier and the bullying is harder to "catch.”
    I find the “cyber bullying” is hitting my school hard. Texting and facebook have been a huge problem with students. As teachers it does not happen at school, therefore we cannot step in. We have been trained by law enforcement agents and we are supposed to have the students call the cops/police. Some parents have, it has not been good. I hope that more education becomes available to students, teachers, and families about the true severity of bullying both in person and on the web.

  2. Thanks for your thoughtful comment.


  3. I teach in a college transition program for students with disabilities. I have a huge problem with bullying in my program. I have been unsuccessful finding resources to teach students with disabilities the importance of not bullying each other. The form of bullying is texting, facebook, and purpusful exclusion of peer grouping. Does anyone have any resources out there? Its an interesting group and dynamic, the students range from 18-27 years old, socially its at a 6-9 grade level.

    Thank you!