School Boards Challenge Education Dept Civil Rights Bullying Order

Posted by on December 14, 2010

The National School Boards Association (NSBA) is challenging the federal Education Department’s “expansive reading of the law” in which the Department redefines bullying as potential federal civil rights violations.

The Department’s Office for Civil Rights issued a 10-page “Dear Colleagues Letter” (DCL) to the nation’s schools on October 26th in which the Department redefined discipline and school climate strategies on bullying-related harassment as subject to federal investigation and legal compliance enforcement. 

In a December 7, 2010, letter to Charlie Rose, General Counsel for the U.S. Department of Education, NSBA expresses “fear’ that the Department’s action:

 “..will invite misguided litigation that needlessly drains precious school resources and creates adversarial climates that distract schools from their educational mission.”

Following  an 11-page challenge and call for clarification, NSBA’s General Counsel, Francisco M. Negron, Jr., summed up the adverse impact of the Department’s order by saying:

“It is our hope that through this letter, we have addressed what we see as some unintended legal and practical challenges arising from the DCL. First, the expansive position on what conduct constitutes “harassment” protected by federal civil rights laws and what remedial measures are legally required will unnecessarily complicate investigations and possibly expose school districts to liability beyond that envisioned by the Supreme Court. Second, the DCL may arm plaintiffs’ attorneys hoping to sue school districts based on similarly expansive views of the law. Third, the DCL does not recognize, as courts have, that educators must enjoy professional deference to address the educational environments in their schools using their unique expertise and knowledge of individual students.”

NSBA is right on target and deserves kudos for openly challenging the Department of Education. The Department’s broad interpretation of federal education civil rights law is questionable.  The federal overreach into local control over school discipline and climate issues is unprecedented, unnecessary, and counterproductive to school administrators’ efforts to maintain school safety.

If only the other national education associations would stand up and be as vocal as NSBA…

Ken Trump

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