Education Dept’s Civil Rights Office: Bullying Schools on Bullying?

Posted by on October 26, 2010

The U.S. Department of Education is warning local school administrators that they may be liable for federal anti-discrimination law violations for student misconduct which constitutes bullying, according to a Tuesday New York Times story posted online late Monday evening.

The Department’s Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, Russlynn Ali, is quoted as saying, “Folks need to wake up,” and that, “We have a crisis in our schools in which bullying and harassment seems to be a rite of passage, and it doesn’t need to be that way.”

Education Department Issues 10-Page Letter Redefining Bullying as Harassment and Discrimination

The Times reports that on Tuesday, a 10-page letter from Ms. Ali will be sent to schools nationwide, “…to clarify the legal responsibilities of the authorities in public schools…”  The letter is said to specifically state:

“Harassing conduct may take many forms, including verbal acts and name-calling; graphic and written statements, which may include use of cellphones or the Internet; or other conduct that may be physically threatening, harmful, or humiliating… Harassment does not have to include intent to harm, be directed at a specific target, or involve repeated incidents. Harassment creates a hostile environment when the conduct is sufficiently severe, pervasive, or persistent so as to interfere with or limit a student’s ability to participate in or benefit from the services, activities, or opportunities offered by a school.”

Education Department officials reportedly said the letter became more urgent to them following recent suicides which the media and anti-bullying advocates have attributed to bullying.

Real or Manufactured “Crisis”?  

Ms. Ali’s assessment that there is a “crisis” in the schools related to bullying and harassment is alarmist and questionable.  What exactly constitutes a “crisis” in the eyes of the Administration – a survey by the Department’s “research wing” claiming one-third of students ages 12-18 felt they were bullied or harassed at school?  And how does the Department elevate this to a crisis — in comparison to longitudinal research or simply because of “high-profile” news stories and because the Department (in particular Ms. Ali, Assistant Deputy Secretary for Safe and Drug Free Schools Kevin Jennings, and their boss Arne Duncan) says so?

Bullying is an issue and one which must be addressed as a part of a comprehensive school safety program.  But it is not the only issue in school safety.  Yet the Education Department is redefining school safety by removing references to violence and defining school safety as “bullying, school climate, and incivility,” thereby creating skewed federal policy and funding to largely on aspect of school safety while ignoring and/or minimizing others in the process.

The vague definition of “harassment” cited above, and the subsequent interpretation of “bullying” under such generic categories, will unquestionably open the flood gates for lawsuits against school districts.  If school boards feel intimidated (bullied) by the U.S. Department of Education, they only need wait until attorneys representing students and parents begin filing law suits for what they interpret as schools not appropriately addressing “bullying” or “harassment” issues.  Beef up the legal defense budgets, school boards, as the lawsuits and federal civil rights investigations are coming to a school near you.

The latest media hysteria on bullying, largely fueled by gay rights advocates and related special interest organizations with their own social and political agendas to get federal laws passed as “anti-bullying” bills, has contributed to manufacturing a crisis beyond the legitimate serious concerns about bullying which actually exist. 

Is The Education Department Bullying School Officials on Bullying?

Telling educators that, “Folks need to wake up,” as Ms. Ali reportedly said in her interview, is condescending and arrogant when coming from a federal education department which, like its predecessors, have been largely considered by the education community as off-mark on education issues.  Now the U.S. Department of Education is making itself the “federal bullying police” and, coincidentally consistent with a campaign by two gay rights special interest groups, is redefining local school bullying cases as federal civil rights issues to be investigated under the umbrella of “harassment” and “discrimination”?

The topic here is definitely bullying.  But it sounds like the Obama Administration’s Department of Education is the bully, and local school boards and administrators are about to be the bully victims.

What say you? 

Ken Trump

Visit School Security Blog at:  http://www.schoolsecurityblog.com

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