How the OCR Holds School Districts Accountable in Bullying Cases

What Classifies Bullying?

According to the United States Department of Health and Human Services, “bullying” is defined as:

“unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has potential to be repeated, over time.” (see www.stopbullying.gov/what-is-bullying/definition/index.html).


Contact Parisi, Coan & Saccocio, PLLC today to get started on your case.


The impact of bullying upon vulnerable children is a significant societal problem. Bullying, which occurs in a variety of forms, can include physical or verbal actions, isolation or humiliation and so-called “cyberbullying”, which encompasses bullying activities through the use of:

  • Computers
  • Cell phones
  • Other electronic devices and often includes the use of social media.

According to studies, persistent bullying has been linked to:

  • Social adjustment disorders in its victims
  • Impaired relationships with peers
  • Difficulty in making friends
  • Increased sense of loneliness
  • Increased anxiety levels
  • Higher rates of eating disorders and aggressive-impulsive behavior problems
  • Greater risk of developing self-esteem problems, depression, suicidal ideation and suicide attempts
  • Lower academic achievement and higher rates of truancy and disciplinary problems (see U.S. Department of Education, Analysis of State Bullying Laws and Policies, Introduction, pgs. 1-3 [2011]).

In other words, it’s a big problem.

All fifty states have passed school anti-bullying legislation. In addition, bullying occurring at any institution that receives federal financial assistance from the Department of Education, which includes most elementary and secondary schools, may also “trigger responsibilities under one or more of the federal anti-discrimination laws enforced by the Department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR).” (see OCR “Dear Colleague Letter”, October 26, 2010).

On October 26, 2010, OCR published its Dear Colleague Letter addressing its role in the movement against bullying culture and the responsibility of educational institutions to maintain a safe learning environment for all students. Here is part of what OCR stated:

“The statutes that OCR enforces include Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VI), which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin;Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (Title IX), which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex; Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504); and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (Title II). Section 504 and Title II prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability. School districts may violate these civil rights statutes and the Department’s implementing regulations when peer harassment based on race, color, national origin, sex, or disability is sufficiently serious that it creates a hostile environment and such harassment is encouraged, tolerated, notadequately addressed, or ignored by school employees.” (id.) (footnotes omitted).

“A school is responsible for addressing, harassment incidents about which it knows or reasonably should have known.” (id.)

“If an investigation reveals that discriminatory harassment has occurred, a school must take immediate and appropriate action to investigate or otherwise determine what occurred.” (id.)

“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).” (id.)

So, there you have it. If your child is the victim of ongoing bullying at his or her school, they have rights. In addition to state remedies, there may be federal remedies under Title VI, Title IX, Title II of the ADA and Section 504.


At Parisi, Coan & Saccocio, PLLC we represent students who have had their lives turned upside down by the scourge of bullying. We are here to help. If you need assistance, call today for a free consultation.


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