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All students have the right to be free from bullying and harassment in school ‒ whether it is verbal, written, graphic, physical, or online. All forms of bullying and harassment are not permitted and require your school to investigate and intervene to ensure that the bullying and harassment does not continue. The problem must be addressed promptly, as students who are bullied are at increased risk of experiencing health problems and academic struggles and are more likely to drop out of school.
To learn more, click here.
Cyberbullying is bullying that takes place over digital devices including computers, cell phones, and tablets. The same rules that require a school to investigate and intervene to prevent in-person bullying also apply to cyberbullying.
Learn more about cyberbullying here.
For more information on bullying, see ELC’s toolkit, What to Do When Your Child Is Bullied or Harassed: A Parent’s Guide to Advocacy in Pennsylvania Public Schools, available here.
Students have a right to be free of bullying and harassment. Students have additional protections on the basis of protected class status such as race, gender, status as being a student who is a person with a disability, immigration status, status as a multilingual learner, sexual orientation, or gender identity. Learn more about your child’s rights here.
If your child is facing bullying and harassment, use this checklist to make a complaint to your child’s school in writing to the principal, your child’s main classroom teacher(s), and to your child’s 504 team or IEP team, if applicable. Check the code of conduct or the student handbook for your child’s school to determine to what process you should follow in making a written complaint. If your child’s school does not use a specific form, a sample complaint form can be found here.
Use the Bullying and Harassment Complaint Form Checklist to complete the specific complaint form used by your child’s school, or the sample form if none is specified, in as much detail as possible. If your child is being called names or slurs, list the specific terms being used. Be sure to keep a copy of your complaint for your records and follow up with the school if they do not get back to you within the timeframe listed in the school policy.
Check the Code of Conduct or the Student Handbook for your child’s school to determine to what process you should follow in making a written complaint of bullying and harassment. If your child’s school does not use a specific form to report bullying or harassment, use this tool. Be as specific as possible when you describe what is happening to your child at school. If your child is being called names or slurs, list the specific terms being used. Here is a checklist you can use to make sure you are being as specific as possible. Be sure to keep a copy of your complaint for your records and follow up with the school if they do not get back to you within the timeframe listed in your school’s policy.
Bullying and harassment are pervasive problems across the United States, Pennsylvania, and in Philadelphia public schools. Every week, ELC hears from multiple parents calling our Helpline to report concern and frustration about their children in the School District of Philadelphia who are suffering from persistent and serious bullying that is unaddressed by school staff.
In 2017, ELC filed a complaint with the United States Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) on behalf of children with disabilities who were discriminated against due to pervasive bullying and harassment that was unanswered by the District due to a systemic failure to promptly and appropriately investigate their complaints and address their educational needs. The District’s failure to promptly and appropriately address alleged incidents of bullying, including consideration of whether the bullying resulted in the denial of a free appropriate public education and in referrals to truancy court for absences relating to bullying, constituted discrimination on the basis of disability.
OCR opened an investigation and entered into a Resolution Agreement with the District that awarded individual relief to named complainants and required the District to review and revise its anti-bullying and anti-harassment policies and procedures, provide staff training on disability discrimination and on the duties of school personnel to report, investigate, and appropriately address incidents of bullying and harassment.
Informed by our experiences in handling these matters and OCR’s Resolution Agreement, ELC is offering proposed changes to District Policy 249 on bullying, which is being revised in fall 2019. Our key recommendations fall in three areas:
-Reforming the reporting process to ensure that all bullying complaints are considered, documented, and investigated;
-Providing training and support to ensure robust bullying investigations by impartial, trained staff; and
-Expanding District oversight and monitoring through data collection, analysis and interventions.
Read our November 14, 2019, testimony to the Policy Committee of the Philadelphia school board.
Bullying and harassment are pervasive problems in Pennsylvania, the United States, and even globally. Students who are bullied are at increased risk of experiencing health problems, academic struggles, and more frequently drop out of school.
If the school knows that a current student is being bullied or harassed by another student at school, on school grounds, in school vehicles, at a designated bus stop or at any activity sponsored, supervised or sanctioned by the school, the school has a legal duty to investigate and take action to keep your child safe. The school should also provide your child supports and interventions when bullying or harassment occurs outside of school (including on social media) if it is substantially interfering with your child’s education or causing a threatening environment. This guide offers suggested steps to ensure the school fulfills these duties.
Read the Parent’s Guide.