Bullying Resolution Advocacy

Bullying Resolution Advocacy is a new venture of Nancy Willard, M.S., J.D., director of Embrace Civility in the Digital Age, as a way to help parents achieve an effective resolution of the more serious or chronic situations where their child is being repeatedly bullied or harassed, the response by the school has not been effective in resolving the situation! 

A New Pathway to a Resolution

While many parents and students become frustrated with the response of the principal when serious or chronic situations are reported, too often they may think that nothing more can be done or they do not know how to proceed. Depending on your child’s “status,” there are four possible paths:

  • If your child is within a protected class–race, religion, national origin, sexual minority or orientation, disabilities–or is being treated badly because of the perspective of being in a protected class, this constitutes discriminatory harassment under civil rights laws.
    • Complaints on this basis can be filed with the district, with appeal to the Oregon Department of Education. Alternatively, a complaint can be filed with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.
  • If your child is experiencing sexual harassment, this constitutes a violation of Title IX.
    • Complaints on this basis can be filed with the district, with appeal to the Oregon Department of Education. Alternatively, a complaint can be filed with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.
  • If your child has disabilities and is on an IEP or 504 Plan, the school is required to address the hurtful conduct in a comprehensive manner after completing an informed evaluation in an IEP or 504 meeting.
    • If your child is being persistently treated badly and is demonstrating symptoms of traumatic distress, it will likely be possible for you to obtain a mental health diagnosis associated with this trauma. Then, under Section 504, your child has a “disability” and the bullying of your child on any basis constitutes a violation of Section 504 and must be addressed in a 504 meeting.
  • For any other student who does not fit into one of these categories it is possible to file a complaint at the district level under Oregon’s bullying prevention statute.
    • Unfortunately, in this situation it is not possible to appeal a complaint made at the district level with the Oregon Department of Education.  Basically, students who are not protected under civil rights laws have little to no effective protection in Oregon. I have tried to encourage the Oregon state legislature to recognize and address this. 

(Note: I am using the term “parent” for anyone who is in a parenting capacity.)

Information Video

Is Your Child Being Bullied or Harassed? A Parent’s Guide to Advocacy in Oregon Schools. 

This video and slideshow will provide you with critically important insight into how you can best document what is happening and proceed in a manner that has a greater potential for positive change. 

Gratitude Donation

These resources are provided to Oregon parents and others at no charge. However, a Gratitude Donation ($30 to 50) would be thoroughly welcomed. 

Background Insight

These documents will be of assistance to your understanding. These documents can help you to document what is happening and file a complaint independently.

  • Positive Resolutions. This document outlines what currently is not working and what schools should be doing to create positive change.
  • Documentation Guide. This document that outlines what information should be gathered to make an effective complaint.
  • Mental Health Concerns. If your child is experiencing significant mental health challenges, it may be possible to obtain a diagnosis of Specified Trauma and Stressors-Related Disorder (a form of PTSD). With such a diagnosis, or a diagnosis of any other mental health challenge, your child is considered under Section 504 to have a disability and the bullying or harassment of your child must be comprehensively addressed in a 504 Team meeting. This document can also be provided to a medical or mental health provider to increase their insight and contains a template for a letter they could write to support your efforts. 

External Resources

Oregon Department of Education

Complaints and Appeals. This page provides information and listing of staff who can provide assistance. These staff are very knowledgable and helpful. They are spread thin. They may be able to help achieve an informal resolution with the district. However, this resolution would not be enforceable. If you file a discriminatory harassment complaint with the district and/or a request for a comprehensive IEP or 504 Team Meeting to address these concerns, it is recommended that you send a copy of this to the appropriate staff person at ODE. This may be helpful in achieving a more rapid and effective response by the district. 

Oregon Administrative Regulations. This document is the new OARs related to filing appeals in situations of discriminatory harassment. Note the benefits of both an enforceable Settlement Agreement and Conciliation Agreement that were discussed in the video. This document also provides some interesting background information. Note on the final page that waiving complaints directly to the department is a legally sound process. This statement provides the basis for you to request that the district waive the local complaint process so that you can achieve an enforceable Settlement Agreement if this is a path you want to follow. 

Oregon School Board Association. This page provides links to the recommended policies of OSBA for school districts under Oregon bullying statute for harassment, intimidation or bullying, teen dating violence and acts of cyberbullying. As is outlined in the video, the policies for the disciplinary code and for appeals are solely based on the Oregon bullying statute and do not incorporate the requirements on schools associated with situations of discriminatory harassment, sexual harassment, and situations where a student with disabilities who is on an IEP or 504 Plan who is being bullied or harassed.

Note in the JFCF-AR policies for complaints, Step 2, that the only consideration is whether discipline was warranted. Assuming your district’s policy contains this provision, this is why it is important to make it clear that your complaint is based on ORS 659.850, the statute against discrimination, and should not be addressed under ORS 339.351 to 339.364.

Student Access. This is a, Oregon Department of Education document for parents regarding Section 504 protections. This is helpful for you to know the basic underlying requirements. However, this document is lacking in insight on what the responsibilities are of schools in situations where a student with disabilities is being harassed based on those disabilities or is being bullied on any basis and this is interfering with their learning. It is, unfortunately, quite probable that many school leaders and special education staff do not know they have a requirement of addressing these concerns in an IEP or 504 Team Meeting. And that the manner of addressing this must be comprehensive. See the 2014 Dear Colleague Letter below. 

Parent Rights for Special Education K-21. This is a, Oregon Department of Education document for parents regarding Individuals with Disabilities Act. This document is also lacking in insight on what the responsibilities are of educators in situations where a student with disabilities is being harassed based on those disabilities. 

United States Department of Education

These documents provide an extensive background into the civil rights requirements. Note that every document states repeatedly that in a situation of possible hostile environment where the serious, persistent, or pervasive hurtful conduct of a student or students appears to be interfering with the right of a protected class student to receive an education, the school must conduct a prompt, unbiased, and comprehensive investigation.

If a hostile environment is found, the school is required to take steps reasonably calculated to stop the harassment (more than a disciplinary action), prevent retaliation, remedy the harm to the target, and correct the hostile environment. 

If a student has disabilities and is being harassed based on those disabilities or bullied on any basis and this is interfering with the student’s learning, this situation must be addressed in an IEP or 504 Team meeting. This requires a comprehensive evaluation conducted by an educator who has received training and is knowledgable about the concerns of discriminatory harassment and the required actions to address this.  

The failure to follow these requirements is the primary reason Oregon schools are not responding effectively in situations where students are being harassed or bullied.

How to File a Discrimination Complaint with the Office for Civil Rights. Given the current administration, I am not sure how effective this will be. However, the staff who handle these complaints in the field offices have not changed, so this could be an appropriate path to consider. 

StopBullying.Gov. This is a page on the federal government’s StopBullying.Gov website about Oregon’s Bullying Statute. Note that this page on Oregon’s Bullying Statute has a question related to protected class students (5th question). Note specifically that there is a link to the page on Federal Laws with the comment: “Schools that receive federal funding are required by federal law to address discrimination on a number of different personal characteristics. Find out when bullying may be a civil rights violation.” This page outlines the more comprehensive intervention requirements under civil rights laws. If a school leader tells you that the Oregon bullying statute addresses the civil rights requirements, this is a good page to suggest they read.

Dear Colleague Letter: Harassment and Bullying (2010). This is a very important Dear Colleague Letter that provides guidance to schools on the approach they need to take in situations where bullying is discriminatory discrimination. 

Dear Colleague Letter Bullying of Students With Disabilities (2013). Office for Special Education and Rehabilitation Services provides guidance for students covered by the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA). OSERS clarifying that when bullying of a student with a disability results in the student not receiving meaningful educational benefit under IDEA, the school must remedy the problem, regardless of whether the bullying was based on the student’s disability.

Dear Colleague Letter on Bullying of Students with Disabilities (2014). This very important document outlines how the discriminatory harassment of students with disabilities or the bullying of any student with disabilities on any basis that is interfering with the student’s right to receive an education must be addressed in a Section 504 meeting. 

Parent and Educator Resource Guide to Section 504 in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools (2016). Note specifically from this document Page 32:

“Section 504 prohibits disability-based harassment by peers that is sufficiently serious to deny or limit a student’s ability to participate in or benefit from the school’s education programs and activities (in other words, creates a hostile environment).  When a school district knows or reasonably should know of possible disability-based harassment, it must take immediate and appropriate steps to investigate or otherwise determine what occurred.  If an investigation reveals that the harassment created a hostile environment, the recipient must take prompt and effective steps reasonably calculated to end the harassment, eliminate the hostile environment, prevent the harassment from recurring, and, as appropriate, remedy its effects.”  

Page 35:

“Schools also have responsibilities under Section 504’s FAPE requirements when a student with a disability is harassed or bullied on any basis (for example, bullied based on disability, or national origin, or homelessness, or appearance). This is because the bullying or harassment can result in a denial of FAPE under Section 504 and, if that occurs, it must be remedied. FAPE may be denied to a student when, for example, the effects of the bullying include adverse changes in the student’s academic performance or behavior.”

This document also references the 2014 Dear Colleague Letter that dictates that this bullying or harassment must be addressed in a 504 Team meeting. 

Checklist for a Comprehensive Approach to Addressing Harassment (2015). This is a great list of things schools and districts should be doing to prevent and respond to harassment.  

Title VI and Title IX Religious Discrimination in Schools and Colleges (2013). Explains how despite the fact that religion is not included in the civil rights statutes, the Office for Civil Rights addresses harassment based on religion. In Oregon, religion is specifically included in the statute. 

Dear Colleague Letter Prohibited Disability Harassment (2000). Lists a good set of actions schools should be taking. 

Title IX Resource Guide for Title IX Coordinators (2015). Note on page 15 this addresses sexual harassment.

Revised Sexual Harassment Guidance (2001). Note the discussion on pages vi to viii on the relationship between Title IX and the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act. Many times schools tell students/parents that the results of their investigation cannot be shared because of privacy. This is not accurate. Note starting on page 5 Factors Used to Evaluate Hostile Environment Sexual Harassment. Note also starting on page 15, Response to Student or Parent Reports of Harassment; Response to Direct Observation of Harassment by a Responsible Employee. This sets forth the extensive actions required to address sexual harassment. This list of required actions also apply to other protected classes. 

Protecting Students from Harassment and Hate Crime: A Guide for Schools (1999). This is an older document. It is noted as “archived” because some of the material is no longer accurate — this is the material related to sexual orientation/identity. Other guidance on the comprehensive approach schools should be taking is very helpful. 

Racial Incidents and Harassment Against Students (1994). This is an older document addressing racial harassment.

Resolution Services

Complaint Services

These Bullying Resolution Advocacy Services have been created to support parents whose children are being bullied or harassed in more serious or chronic situations, the school’s response has not been effective, and you require more assistance than the above materials are able to provide. The response has likely not been effective for the following reasons:

  • The principal has not done a comprehensive investigation.
  • The intervention plan has not met the civil rights standard of taking steps reasonably calculated to stop the harassment, prevent retaliation, remedy the harmful harm and prevent further harm to the target, and correct the environment to reduce the likelihood the hurtful acts will continue.

In situations such as this, I can provide services in documenting what the situation is and assisting the parent to:

  • File a complaint with the district and assist in appealing the complaint to the Oregon Department of Education. (It is also possible to file a complaint at the same time with the federal Office for Civil Rights.)
  • File a request for a Section 504 or IEP evaluation and Team Meeting to address the harassment or bullying of your child.

Independent Educational Evaluation Services

If your child has disabilities and is receiving services either on an IEP or a 504 plan, the school is required to address the concerns of the harassment of your child in an IEP or 504 Team meeting.

The school must have someone with expertise in discriminatory harassment and bullying, as well as civil rights requirements, conduct a comprehensive evaluation to address the concerns. The proposed plan of action (which should be provided to you in advance of the meeting) should fully incorporate the steps the school deems reasonable calculated to stop the harassment, prevent retaliation, remedy the harm to your child, and correct the environment to reduce the likelihood the hurtful acts will continue. 

If this evaluation and planning has not be done by an educator with this expertise and/or if the proposed plan does not incorporate the necessary components, you can request what is called an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE).

Under IDEA there is a requirement that the district pay for this IEE. If they do not want to do so, they must request and pay for a due process hearing. The district has “criteria” for who can conduct an IEE, but there are specific regulations that state that if there are unique circumstances, the parent can request someone who does not meet this criteria. This will be a unique circumstance. 

There is no specific requirement in 504 that requires the district pay for an IEE. But there is a specific requirement that the evaluation and proposed plan be developed by trained personnel who are able to evaluate and develop recommendations to address the specific need. If this is not the case,  you can and should request an IEE paid for by the district. If the district turns down this request, you can file for a due process hearing at ODE.

I am interested in offering these services. If you check my resume, you will see I have the expertise to do so. Once I have sufficient experience in the offering of such services, I will seek to train other professionals in Oregon to also offer such services. 

Support

Hopefully, based on the information I have provided in the video and above, parents will be able to file a request for a Section 504 or IEP Team Meeting or a discriminatory harassment complaint using a template that I have already prepared. However, I am not providing immediate public access to this template because I want the opportunity to hear from parents about what is happening to make sure that the template I have prepared is fully appropriate. 

In addition, I have prepared a template to request an IEE. 

If you would like to receive these templates–at no charge–please send an email to nwillard@embracecivility.org. In the text of the email, please provide the documentation you have gathered using the Documentation Guide above. (This does not have to be perfect.) Based on this, I will be able to quickly advise you and provide you with a template. If you require more assistance, we can enter into a services agreement for this. 

CONFIDENTIALITY and Data Use

I commit to protect your privacy. I will not disclose any information about your identities or specific situation. However, I do want to be able to analyze the information I receive from parents to see if I can detect patterns in what is happening that could help to create positive change. In sending me your documentation information you will be granting me permission to conduct and report on this analysis. 

Commitment

My approach to resolution is positively supportive of all students—including those who are being hurtful who may also require better intervention and support. I will seek to help you to require that the school implement positive strategies that support all involved students.

While I cannot guarantee positive results, I am committed to working passionately to address the concerns faced by your child. I will also provide guidance on how to proceed if initial efforts are not successful. 

My Expertise

The following documents set forth my background and expertise:

My professional resume.

You can also review the other resources on my site to see that I am indeed focused on supporting schools in implementing research-based strategies that will better support all students in fostering positive relations and responding effectively when hurtful incidents do occur. 

Lay Advocate ~ Not Legal Services

A well-known practice within the special education field is known as Parent Advocates. I am seeking to serve as an Advocate for parents to address concerns of bullying or harassment of their child. I have not found anyone who has tried to do this, so this is a new venture.

While I am a former attorney, I no longer practice law. I do sometimes work as a trial consultant for other attorneys.

The services I offer are not legal services. While I understand the regulatory requirements under IDEA and the civil rights laws, the primary focus of my guidance will be grounded in effective bullying prevention practices—not legal requirements. If I identify a situation where it would be advisable for a parent to consult with an attorney, I will make an appropriate referral.

Services for Schools or Districts

Oregon school leaders can also request assistance in responding to chronic bullying and harassment situations through investigation, mediation, a restorative conference, or assisting in an IEP/504 meeting in a situation where a student with disabilities is being bullied or engaging in bullying.

I truly believe Oregon’s school leaders and staff do not want to see bullying and harassment occurring in school or online, want to respond effectively, and want all students to feel safe, happy, and successful in school. If a school asks for my assistance for a specific situation, I will also seek to coach assist key staff in gaining the insight and skills into how they can respond to other situations.

Contact

Contact me at nwillard@embracecivility.org for more information.

 

 

 

 

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