The U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights has issued guidance on student-on-student bullying and discriminatory harassment, in response to a spate of recent, high-profile suicides and other anti-gay, anti-Muslim and sexual harassment in schools.
The U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights has issued guidance on student-on-student bullying and discriminatory harassment, in response to a spate of recent, high-profile suicides and other anti-gay, anti-Muslim and sexual harassment in schools. In addition, President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton recently recorded video statements for the It Gets Better Project, expressing support and encouragement to all students who experience or witness bullying or harassment, especially LGBT youth.
The guidance reiterates guidance issued by the Bush administration in 2001 and 2006. This time, however, the department is addressing discrimination in the context of current concerns about bullying.
In the form of a Dear Colleague Letter, the guidance clarifies the relationship between bullying and discriminatory harassment under the several civil rights laws enforced by the federal government. The letter also discusses racial and national origin harassment, sexual harassment, gender-based harassment, and disability harassment, and illustrates how schools should respond to each case.
According to the guidance, federal laws do not specifically protect students on the basis of religion or sexual orientation. Yet federal laws do protect gay, lesbian and transgender students against sexual or gender-based discrimination, and religious students against discrimination based on their shared ethnic characteristics.
The department will hold workshops throughout the country early next year to help educators and administrators understand their obligations and available resources. The administration also announced that it will hold a White House conference on bullying and harassment prevention early next year. For more details on the guidance, you can access the press release, background and summary, and the Dear Colleague Letter.
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Dominic W. Holt
American Counseling Association