Bullying as a Disability in Public Elementary and Secondary Education
Douglas E. Abrams
University of Missouri School of Law
March 31, 2012
Missouri Law Review, Vol. 77, Summer 2012
University of Missouri School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2012-07
Forty-six states have enacted anti-bullying statutes, 36 of which explicitly reach cyberbullying. The statutes typically amend the state education act to require public school districts to adopt written anti-bullying policies, teach prevention curricula, discipline bullies, and cooperate with law enforcement when bullying turns criminal. By acting in such unison, the state legislatures have articulated a national consensus that school bullying inhibits learning by substantially disrupting or interfering with the educational mission, and by compromising victims’ physical or emotional security.
School authorities may feel greater incentive and capacity to enforce the emerging state legislation if they view actual and virtual bullying as acts that saddle victims with a disability that inhibits learning. This article discusses two reasons why likening bullying victimization to an educational disability makes sense. First, face-to-face bullying and cyberbullying impose on student victims the sort of educational deprivation that the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) addresses in the disabilities arena. Second, today’s belated public sensitivity to school bullying victims resembles the belated public sensitivity to students with disabilities that led to passage of the IDEA in 1975.
It is no longer acceptable public policy to turn back the clock to the pre-IDEA approach that overlooked the needs of disabled schoolchildren for decades. We understand more now about these children’s needs than we understood then, and the IDEA tips the scales in favor of maintaining disabled children in the mainstream of American society.
Similarly, it is no longer acceptable public policy to turn back the clock to the pre-1990s approach that overlooked the needs of bullied school children for decades. We understand more now about these children’s needs than we understood then, and the states’ near-universal embrace of anti-bullying legislation tips the scales in favor of protecting bullied children in school.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 36
Keywords: bullying, disability, public, elementary, secondary, IDEA, cyberbullying
Date posted: April 7, 2012