Transgender students share their stories with Secretary Duncan. (Photo by Leslie Williams/U.S. Department of Education)
ED recently invited a group of transgender students to speak about their school experiences at a roundtable discussion with Secretary Duncan and senior officials.
During the roundtable in the Secretary’s conference room, students expressed the need for greater awareness of and school support for addressing issues affecting transgender students. They emphasized the importance of having their gender identity and expression respected within their learning community and feeling safe in school.
During the discussion, students talked about their experiences in school, such as being prevented from using the proper bathroom as well as being punished as a victim of bullies’ physical assaults. They also talked about what a tremendous difference it makes to their ability to learn and feel safe at school when they have the support of educators who believe in them.
ED officials listened to the students’ recommendations about how we can foster safer educational communities for transgender youth and ensure that all students can learn in safe and healthy environments. Among other things, students advocated for:
schools to implement proper bathroom and locker room utilization,
consistent recognition of appropriate names and pronouns, and
elimination of the school to prison pipeline.
ED welcomed the dialogue and the chance to hear from these students. As one student explained, “It’s all about being true to yourself.” Embracing individuality and authenticity is a lesson that we all can learn from these courageous students.
Samuel Ryan is the Special Assistant and Youth Liaison and Hannah Pomfret attends McGill University and is an intern at U.S. Department of Education.
Bullying remains a serious issue for students and their families, and efforts to reduce bullying concern policy makers, administrators, and educators. According to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, “As schools become safer, students are better able to thrive academically and socially. The Department, along with our federal partners and others, has been deeply involved in the fight against bullying in our nation’s schools.” This is why we are so pleased to share that, after remaining virtually unchanged for close to a decade, new data indicate that the prevalence of bullying is at a record low.
“The report brings welcome news,” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell said. “Parents, teachers, health providers, community members and young people are clearly making a difference by taking action and sending the message that bullying is not acceptable. We will continue to do our part at HHS to help ensure every child has the opportunity to live, learn and grow in a community free of bullying.”
Bullying can occur anywhere and to any student. There are three types of bullying: physical, relational (or social) and verbal. Research shows that students who are bullied are more likely to struggle in school and skip class. They are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol, be depressed, and are at higher risk of suicide.
Since 2010, the Department of Education along with the Departments of Health and Human Services and Justice, have acted to combat bullying and cyberbullying through work such as StopBullying.gov. However, it is the work of educators, bus drivers, parents, and students, that have taken a stand to put an end to bullying. Your hard work and dedication is making a difference!
As Secretary Duncan has noted, the Department of Education is committed to making sure that all of our young people grow up free of fear, violence, and bullying. Bullying not only threatens a student’s physical and emotional safety at school, but fosters a climate of fear and disrespect, creating conditions that negatively impact learning—undermining students’ ability to achieve to their full potential. Unfortunately, we know that children with disabilities are disproportionately affected by bullying.
Factors such as physical vulnerability, social skills challenges, or intolerant environments may increase the risk of bullying. Students who are targets of bullying are more likely to experience lower academic achievement, higher truancy rates, feelings of alienation, poor peer relationships, loneliness, and depression. We must do everything we can to ensure that our schools are safe and positive learning environments—where all students can learn.
To that end, today, ED’s Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) issued guidance to educators and stakeholders on the matter of bullying of students with disabilities. This guidance provides an overview of school districts’ responsibilities to ensure that students with disabilities who are subject to bullying continue to receive free appropriate public education (FAPE) under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Under IDEA, States and school districts are obligated to ensure that students with disabilities receive FAPE in the least restrictive environment (LRE). This guidance explains that any bullying of a student with disabilities which results in the student not receiving meaningful educational benefit is considered a denial of FAPE. Furthermore, this letter notes that certain changes to an educational program of a student with a disability (e.g., placement in a more restricted “protected” setting to avoid bullying behavior) may constitute a denial of FAPE in the LRE.
Schools have an obligation to ensure that a student with disabilities who is bullied, continues to receive FAPE as outlined in his or her individualized education program (IEP). IEPs, as well as 504 plans, can be useful in outlining specialized approaches for preventing and responding to bullying, as well as providing additional supports and services to students with disabilities. This guidance also offers effective evidence-based practices for preventing and addressing bullying.
“This guidance is a significant step forward for students facing bullying,” said Ari Ne’eman, President of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, a leading national advocacy organization. “We applaud and commend the Department for reinforcing that when a child is being bullied, it is inappropriate to ‘blame the victim’ and remove them from the general education classroom. School districts have an obligation to address the source of the problem –the stigma and prejudice that drives bullying behavior.”
Bullying of any student simply cannot be tolerated in our schools. A school where children don’t feel safe is a school where children struggle to learn. Every student deserves to thrive in a safe school and classroom free from bullying.
Please see the Dear Colleague Letter on bullying and its accompanying enclosure below or on this OSERS policy letters page.
Dear Colleague Letter: MS Word (91KB) | PDF (1.4MB)
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and staff from the U.S. Department of Education (ED) recently released an “It Gets Better” video to address the importance of fostering safe spaces for learning across the country. Part of the Department’s initiative is ensuring that students are protected from the harmful effects of bullying within their communities.
One of the tools available to help is StopBullying.gov. The site offers a variety of resources for students, teachers, and parents to help with conflict resolution, provide support to those affected by bullying, and promote general acceptance within their local communities for the upcoming school year and beyond. Here are few tips from the site that you might find helpful:
Assessing Bullying and Aiding in Conflict Resolution: It is important to confront bullying at its source and address conflicts between students as responsibly as possible. StopBullying.gov is a fantastic resource for understanding how parents, educators, teens and kids can all play a role in understanding bullying, stopping it at its source and keeping it from escalating further.
Providing Support: It is critical to provide a strong support structure and network of allies for victims of bullying within local communities. Responding to bullying appropriately is critical for the well-being of all students involved.
Support the kids involved, whether this means simply communicating to victims of bullying that it is not their fault, or helping them gain access to counseling or mental health services to cope with the effects of bullying.
Be more than a bystander by being an ally to victims of bullying by reporting abuse, helping to resolve a situation, or by simply being a good friend.
Promoting and Guaranteeing Acceptance in Your Community: While bullying in your community may be a local issue, there are many state and federal laws that protect victims of bullying.
There are a variety of laws that protect victims of bullying across the country against discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex, disability, or religion. It is important for students and parents to know their rights and seek out the appropriate support if they feel that their or their child’s civil rights have been violated.
Students who identify as LGBT or youth with special needs are more likely to be targets of bullying and have a greater chance of feeling subjugated as an effect. It is important to support the individual needs of these students and there are resources available to help fight for the rights of these groups specifically.
Creating student-led organizations such as Gay-Straight Alliances (GSA) or Diversity organizations, something that Secretary Duncan underscored on National GSA Day, can help provide critical support for students who feel like they have nowhere else to go. The Equal Access Act of 1984 and many state and local laws guarantee the right to create these types of groups in schools if student need is demonstrated.
We hope that these resources can aid in stopping bullying at its source and give victims strategies to combat bullying, help individuals stand up to injustice in their communities, and ultimately improve the welfare of students.
Secretary Duncan recently noted that “all of us here at the Department of Education are committed to making sure that young people today can grow up free of fear, violence, and bullying and do everything we can to protect them.”
Adam Sperry is a student at New York University and a current intern in the Office of Communication & Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education.
Today, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) released a new video where Department staff share personal stories and identify tools that support students experiencing bullying. In response to students suffering bullying in schools, ED has redoubled efforts to give parents, educators, and students the tools they need to stop harassment, including through the website Stopbullying.gov and civil rights enforcement.
We have also joined thousands of supportive messages, and numerous fellow agencies and Obama Administration colleagues, in the “It Gets Better” project. And while ED staff explain that their experiences got better over time, we also want to emphasize that students shouldn’t have to wait – together we can help make it better today, not tomorrow.
Today GLSEN hosts its national Day of Silence-a day where students throughout the country take a vow of silence to call attention to anti-LGBT bullying and harassment in schools. I want to encourage all of us NOT to be silent on an important issue: the need to address and eliminate bullying and harassment in our schools.
No student should ever feel unsafe in school. If students don’t feel safe, they can’t learn. And if left unaddressed, bullying and harassment can rapidly escalate into even more serious abuse.
I want to remind students, parents, and administrators of the power of supportive clubs, like the Gay Straight Alliances or GSAs, to foster safe school environments. The Department of Education has provided guidance to schools on their obligations under federal laws to provide equal access to extracurricular clubs, including GSAs, as well to address bullying and harassment and gender-based violence.
Let’s work together to end bullying and harassment in schools.
Please visit StopBullying.gov and find additional resources from the Department of Education below–including school obligations under federal law:
From Left to Right: Vinnie Pompei (Project Director & Conference Chair) Michael Yudin (Keynote Speaker) Actor George Takei (Honoree) Betty DeGeneres (Ellen's Mother) (Honoree) MSNBC Anchor Thomas Roberts (Honoree) City Councilmember, Fort Worth, Texas, Joel Burns (Honoree)
This past weekend in San Diego, I had the opportunity to participate in the 4th Annual National Educator Conference focused on creating safe, supportive, and inclusive schools for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth. A goal of the conference, presented by the Center for Excellence in School Counseling and Leadership (CESCaL), was to bring together education leaders and LGBT experts to empower and provide educators and school personnel with the knowledge and skills necessary to create safe, welcoming and inclusive school environments for all youth, regardless of their sexual orientation.
Additionally, the conference focused on providing educators with the tools and resources to prevent and respond to bullying of LGBT youth, as well as empowering them to make the changes in their schools to make sure all kids are safe and thriving. I met with so many amazing educators; it truly was empowering.
Safe schools are not only free from overt forms of physical violence or substance abuse, but work proactively to support, engage, and include all students. Unfortunately, too many schools are not safe for LGBT youth. According to GLSEN’s National School Climate Survey, nearly 8 out of 10 LGBT youth were harassed at school. We know that students who are bullied are more likely to have depression, anxiety, and other health concerns, as well as decreased academic achievement and participation. When students don’t feel safe, they are less likely to learn and more likely to give up on school altogether. Unfortunately, we also know that LGBT youth are disproportionately subject to discipline practices that exclude them from the classroom, and make up close to 15% of youth in the juvenile justice system.
Given these statistics, it’s not surprising that LGBT youth are at an increased risk for suicidal thoughts and behaviors, suicide attempts, and suicide. We need to ensure that educators have the tools and resources to not only protect LGBT students from harassment and discrimination, but to ensure that they thrive in schools, not drop out!
One of the students who attended the event came with his high school teacher from Washington State. He had reached out to the conference organizers after bullying in school left him feeling defeated and isolated. They attended with the hope that it would transform the student’s life in a positive way and enable his teacher to help and learn more to help other LGBT students. In a follow-up to the conference organizer, the student thanked Vinnie Pompei, the Project Director & Conference Chair, for the “awesome” opportunity to attend, and acknowledged that this is a great beginning to share information learned from the conference with students, teachers and others at his school.
Another student who participated in the conference said, “I get bullied every day. This started in 1st grade and I’m in 8th grade now. Suicide was an option…many times. [But] I’m not going anywhere…because I’m stronger than that.”
We need to work together and empower both students and teachers and make sure they have the tools to create changes in schools. I spoke with many educators who perceive stopping anti-gay bullying as risky and fear retribution. Teachers also need support in speaking out.
As I addressed the conference, I asked the individual educators to do four things to help improve the school experience of our LGBT youth.
Create positive school climates for all students – this happens only through a deliberate, school-wide effort, and with the participation of families and communities.
Be proactive and visible to LGBT youth – they cannot know they are supported, valued, and appreciated, if the adults in the building aren’t there to tell them so.
Identify “safe spaces,” such as counselors’ offices, designated classrooms, or student organizations, where LGBT youth can receive support from administrators, teachers, or other school staff.
Encourage student-led and student-organized school clubs that promote a safe, welcoming, and accepting school environment (e.g., gay-straight alliances, which are school clubs open to youth of all sexual orientations).
Understand student mental health issues. Everyone can play a role here; not only school counselors or nurses, but teachers and administrators that can identify warning signs, like sudden changes in behavior.
And importantly – they are not alone. While educators play a critical role in providing support to LGBT youth, they can build partnerships with local health and mental health agencies, community based organizations, and child welfare. And, there are federal resources to provide guidance and information on how to make schools safe, supportive, and inclusive. For example, check out www.stopbullying.gov.
I would like to extend my deepest thanks to the courageous teachers who are working every day to make this happen. Thankfully, educators have the power to create change in their schools, supporting students and saving lives.
Michael Yudin is acting assistant secretary for ED’s Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services
Youth from around the country and those overseas in U.S. Department of Defense schools, aged 13 to 18 years, took our challenge and submitted almost 900 entries for the 2012 StopBullying.gov Video Challenge!
The Federal Partners in Bullying Prevention have worked our way through all the creative videos and screened them for eligibility based on the challenge rules. We ranked each of the eligible videos according to the published criteria, and considered feedback from our technical advisors:
Filmmaker Lee Hirsch;
Alice Cahn from Cartoon Network’s Stop Bullying, Speak Up! Campaign;
Deborah Leiter from the Ad Council; and
Scott Hannah and Tyler Gregory, previous finalists of The Great American NO BULL Challenge.
We are ready to share the SEVEN finalists for YOU to vote on!
The theme of this year’s contest is “how youth can be more than a bystander and help kids who are involved in bullying.” Contestants were asked to integrate this idea into their entries and show how they are making a difference in their communities by taking action against bullying.
The goal of the contest is to create an impact through accepting videos that demonstrate:
These youth are competing for big cash prizes — $2,000 will be awarded to the winning video and $500 for each of the two runners up. Voting will continue until December 10th.
We encourage you to look over the entries and vote for the video that does the best job of showing how youth can be more than a bystander and truly make a difference in their communities by standing up against bullying.
Over the past three years, at our annual Federal Partners in Bullying Prevention Summits, we have heard the same call by educators-– teachers want to help stop bullying, but they don’t know how. Most try to help, but few receive training on how to do so. There are bullying prevention trainings available for teachers, but many are very expensive or not based on the best available research.
The research-based training gives teachers practical steps to take to respond to bullying. These skills include how to deescalate a situation, find out what happened, and support all of the students involved. The training also shows the importance of building strong relationships in the classroom, as well as creating an environment respectful of diversity, in order to prevent bullying.
The classroom teacher toolkit is based in part on a toolkit specific to bus drivers, released in June 2011. Many states and school districts have used that toolkit; it has been used to train over 100,000 of the nation’s estimated 550,000 school bus drivers in the past year. Trainees have reported feeling better equipped to address bullying on their school buses following the training.
We hope that the districts, schools, and teachers will use this toolkit as a resource. When more people know how to stop bullying, the more likely we will be to ensure that all students are able to learn in a safe and supportive school.
Deborah Temkin is a Research and Policy Coordinator for Bullying Prevention Initiatives at the Department of Education
As children head back to the classroom, now is a great time for parents and guardians to talk with your kids about bullying. Here are five tips to help your child prevent bullying and to help them deal with bullying:
2) Make sure kids know safe ways to be more than a bystander. When kids witness bullying, it can affect them too. Helping kids learn what they can do to help when they see bullying can help to stop bullying. Click here for more suggestions on how bystanders can help.
3) Know your state’s anti-bullying law and your school’s anti-bullying policy. Forty-nine states have laws requiring schools to have anti-bullying policies. Know what your school policy says and how to report an incident of bullying if you ever need to.
4) Learn how to support kids involved in bullying. When you find out your child is involved in bullying, it is important to know how to respond. Whether your child is bullying others or is the one being bullied it is important to know what steps to take, and which to avoid, in order to resolve the situation.
5) Take an active role in anti-bullying initiatives. The key to addressing bullying is to stop it before it starts. Work with your children, their school, and the community to raise awareness and take action against bullying. Toolkits like the Health Resources and Services Administration’s Community Action Training Modules can help you start an initiative in your community. You can get your children involved, too, by using the Youth Leaders Toolkit to help them mentor younger children.
Visit StopBullying.gov for more helpful tips on how to prevent bullying, and have a great school year!
Deborah Temkin is a Research and Policy Coordinator for Bullying Prevention Initiatives at the Department of Education
When I helped close the third annual Federal Partners in Bullying Prevention Summit on Tuesday, my colleagues and I gave attendees a simple charge: what are you going to do to further bullying prevention in the next year?
At the summit we heard about the diverse and expansive efforts of many different organizations – from Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation to previewing the AD Council’s new campaign targeted at parents. We also heard about the continued commitment of the federal partners to find solutions to bullying through keynotes by Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, and Associate Attorney General Tony West.
In each of the keynotes, panels and discussions over the course of the two-day summit, one key theme emerged: We all have a role to play to prevent bullying, but we must make sure we base our efforts on the best available knowledge, work together so we advance the field rather than reinvent the wheel, and make sure we engage youth.
Our words and messaging around bullying matter. We must work to combat indifference that sometimes leads to inaction. Even though we all want “zero-tolerance” towards bullying, we need to recognize bullying’s impact on all students in a school, including those who bully. And we must consider whether exclusionary disciplinary policies could make things worse. We must work to find alternative strategies to make sure we hold those who bully accountable, that also allow those students to learn, grow and succeed.
We must also strive to recognize the many other factors, beyond bullying, that contribute to youth’s suicidal ideation and behaviors. Speakers at the summit reminded us that recognizing the other factors that may be involved in youth suicide, and being careful how we talk about it, allows us to better help youth who may be considering it.
Through all of our efforts, we must make sure we ask the youth involved. Over 30 student leaders attended the summit and let us all know, they have ideas and they want to be heard. That is one of the reasons the Federal Partners in Bullying Prevention announced the launch of their “Stop Bullying Video Challenge” allowing teens13-18 years-old to submit PSAs on how their peers can be “more than a bystander.”
Ultimately, it is up to all of us to combat bullying and I truly hope this year’s summit has inspired us all to take action.
Deborah Temkin is a Research and Policy Coordinator for Bullying Prevention Initiatives at the Department of Education
The 2010 suicide of a Rutgers University student brought the issue of bullying to the forefront of the American conversation. For some states, it served as an opportunity to re-examine their existing anti-bullying laws. In response to the incident, New Jersey passed “The Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights.” It is one of the toughest anti-bullying laws in the country and provides considerable resources in combating bullying in schools.
Following the law’s passage, East Hanover K-8 School District Superintendent Dr. Joseph Ricca took a natural interest in the law. Ricca had done his doctoral thesis on character education and had witnessed firsthand the negative effects of bullying in schools as a teacher, vice principal and principal. He understands that the first step in addressing bullying is to identify and reduce harassment, intimidation and bullying within the school environment.
But he also understands that any successful anti-bullying efforts leverage the support of the whole community. In response to the New Jersey law, he formed a partnership with the Morris County Sheriff’s CrimeStoppers program so students are now able to provide anonymous tips on bullying without fear of consequence. The collaboration, which requires no additional funding, is the first of its kind in the state.
During the East Hanover's Community Night of Respect, while the parents, guardians, and other community members are listening to the speakers, students participated in different events focused on character education, respect, responsibility, being a good citizen, identifying and reporting bullying and conflict resolution.
“This gives children, who may be too embarrassed to discuss a bullying incident with an adult at school, the opportunity to contact CrimeStoppers online, with a text message, or a phone call,” said Ricca. Thanks to the implementation of the law, the district now has a robust HIB education program that has created a healthy school climate and culture.
Students weighed in on the issue at a recent roundtable discussion within the district. Elementary students were the most receptive to the law and said they began to see results shortly after the new rules were introduced. “We already notice a big change,” commented one third grader.
A middle school student echoed enthusiasm for the law. “This is a great thing. No one speaks up because they are scared of getting a bad name. Now being anonymous, bad things that happen in school will no longer be kept a secret.”
The opinion from one middle school student underscored the challenge of eliminating bullying in schools altogether. “It is still new and we are hoping this causes change, but bullying is bullying and to some extent will always be present in schools,” said the eighth grader.
Ricca, who was recently appointed to head Governor Chris Christie’s Anti-Bullying Task Force, has become a tireless advocate on the issue and won’t be satisfied until bullying is eradicated in schools. Ricca looks forward to the upcoming school year where he has planned events to engage the community beginning with the “2nd Annual Community Night of Respect” in October.