By Myrna Mandlawitz, Director of Public Policy
LDA has long recognized that children and youth with learning and other disabilities are at high risk for being bullied. While there have only been 10 studies in the United States examining the connection between bullying and disability, all have reached the same conclusion: children with disabilities are two to three times more likely to be the victims of bullying than nondisabled children. For students with learning disabilities, bullying can heighten students’ anxiety and concerns about school, affecting academic performance and increasing school phobia, resulting in higher absenteeism and possibly higher rates of drop out.
For several years, LDA has signed on as a partner with the National Bullying Prevention Center (https://www.pacer.org/bullying/), led by the PACER Center in Minneapolis, MN, to raise awareness of this serious problem, particularly as it relates to children and youth with disabilities. The Center has produced some excellent materials that define the issue and provide partners and communities with resources to take action to ensure children with disabilities feel safe and protected in the school environment. The Center also highlights the importance of teaching self-advocacy skills to help children and youth with disabilities be better able to ask for help and have a specific plan for dealing with bullying situations.
In addition to participating with the National Bullying Prevention Center, LDA is once again supporting the Safe Schools Improvement Act (SSIA), sponsored by Senator Bob Casey (D-PA), set to be reintroduced in Congress in September. A companion bill (H.R. 2653) was introduced in the House in May by Representative Linda Sanchez (D-CA) and has the bipartisan support of 57 co-sponsors.
The Casey bill would require school districts to have policies that specifically prohibit conduct, including bullying and harassment, that affect students’ ability to participate fully in all school activities and create a “hostile or abusive educational environment,” including physical, verbal, and nonverbal aggression or intimidation. Policies must also prohibit bullying or harassment based on a student’s “actual or perceived” race, color, national origin, sex (including sexual orientation and gender identity), disability, or religion.
Other provisions of the legislation require states to report annually to the U.S. Department of Education on incidents of bullying and harassment. In addition, school districts must provide annual notice to students, families, and staff regarding prohibited behaviors and local discipline policies and have in place a grievance procedure for students and families to register complaints.
National Bullying Prevention Month occurs in October, so introduction of the Casey bill will be well-timed. October 23, 2019, is designated as Unity Day around the issue of bullying. Check out the National Bullying Prevention Center’s website for how your school and community can become involved (https://www.pacer.org/bullying/nbpm/).