Education Dept Redefines Bullying as Federal Civil Rights Violations

Posted by on October 26, 2010

Discipline and school climate strategies on bullying,  historically managed by local school boards and administrators, has been redefined as a federal civil rights issue subject to federal investigation and legal compliance enforcement, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.

The Obama Administration’s Department of Education issued a 10-page “Dear Colleagues” letter to schools today which radically shifts the focus of school bullying, discipline, and climate strategies from an issue of local school board control to one where federal Civil Rights officials will likely conduct significantly more investigations into school bullying cases:

“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, not adequately addressed, or ignored by school employees.”

The Department also issued a two-page fact sheet and summary of the letter.

My Take:  An Overreaching Federal Role into Local School Responsibility for School Safety

The Office of Civil Rights’ letter suggests a radical shift in the role of federal school safety policy.  School discipline, school climate strategies, and other school safety responsibilities have historically been a local control issue.  Under the current direction of the Obama Administration’s Education Department, there appears to be a dramatic overreach of federal education officials’ role into local school bullying, discipline, and school climate strategies.

The Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights appears to have a goal of not only “vigorously” investigating local school districts, but perhaps even more so a broader goal of forcing and enforcing “compliance orders” upon local school districts.  On the surface, the Department’s efforts easily appear to be a simple effort to protect “bullying” victims.  But based on the Department’s letter, comments in recent months by Department officials, and related information, it appears that “training” and other compliance strategies may be the ultimate goal of the Department in influencing local school discipline and climate practices — all with a strong flavor of a “civil rights” philosophy and agenda driven more by politics than best practices in school safety. 

Likely Result: More Focus on Legal Defense and Political Agendas, Less on Safety

The implications for local schools are huge: 

  • Questionable positive impact on school bullying, climate, and safety; with a significant possibility of these processes having an adverse, rather than positive, impact as schools focus more on protecting their districts from legal attacks and federal investigations, rather than on focusing their limited time and resources on school safety, discipline, and climate;
  • Increased cases of federal civil rights investigators knocking at the doors of school superintendents and principa based on any complaint, with or without merit and regardless of the motivations and agendas of the complainants;
  • Increased law suits against school districts, on issues of “bullying,” which are based on broad interpretations of federal civil rights laws (under the labels of “harassment” or “discrimination”);
  • Increased legal fees for school districts, taking away from already tight school district budgets and limited resources that could be better spent in providing prevention, intervention, security, and preparedness measures for school safety;  and
  • Attempts to exert social and political agendas into local schools, by federal officials who typically have minimal experience and understanding of school operations in general, and particularly little-to-no practical understanding of day-to-day school discipline, climate, and safety issues.

School boards, superintendents, and principals have no clue of what is in store for them.  And unfortunately, at the national level, their representatives appear to have little-to-no voice and influence in the direction this intrusion into their members’ ability to manage and control the direction of discipline, climate, and school safety most appropriate for their unique school-communities.

Stay tuned and hang on for the ride.  This one is going to be interesting.

Ken Trump

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2 thoughts on “Education Dept Redefines Bullying as Federal Civil Rights Violations

  1. Marie says:

    I’m grateful to have come across your site. Today, my high school students were, without advance notice, told that they would have to attend a mandatory assembly on bullying during class time/study hall. After a brief presentation, Obama’s highly politicized video was shown. I won’t find out until tomorrow – when I can talk to the principal – on what kind of orders the school was acting. My students were pretty disgusted, as well as frustrated that time dedicated to studying was usurped.

    1. Ken Trump says:

      Thanks for sharing this experience and your concerns, Marie. The implications of politicizing bullying and school safety are huge, and the level of political-correctness stands to do little to help further best practices in school safety. Good for you and your students for questioning this program.

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