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When Bullying Becomes a Civil Rights Violation

According to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, serious harassment that is based on sex, country of origin, disability, race or color is a violation of federal anti-discrimination laws (many states also prohibit against discrimination based on sexual orientation).

Schools or school districts can be in violation of anti-discrimination laws of when harassment which is based on race, color, country of origin, sex or disability results in a ‘hostile environment’ and when this harassment is encouraged, tolerated, ignored or even not sufficiently dealt with by school employees.

  • Harassment is considered to create a hostile environment when it is repetitive and persistent and severe enough to interfere with the bullied student’s ability to participate in and benefit from education, school services and any and all school activities.
  • Schools must address any harassment they find out about, or harassment they should reasonably know about. If incidents of harassment are widely known of by students and faculty, then the school is responsible to address these.
  • When school officials learn of harassment, they must take prompt steps to investigate the incident and to ensure that the harassment does not continue.
  • The school is responsible to end the harassment, whether or not the bullied student has asked for help or identified the perpetrators of the harassment.
  • Any steps taken to protect the bullied person from repeated harassment should not penalize the victim. For example, if separation of students is a solution, the victim should not have to change her class schedule or withdrawal from activities.1

Bullying is serious, its consequences can be long lasting (or deadly) and we all have a responsibility to put a stop to it whenever we can. Schools that take the initiative can do a lot to stamp out bullying. If you’re worried about bullying at your child’s school and think that the bullying may constitute a civil rights violation, then school officials may be compelled by law to take action.

To find out more, or to report a civil rights violation, contact the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights or call their hotline at 1-800-421-3481.

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