In 2009, three researchers – Wall, Wheaton and Zuver – reviewed all U.S. studies done on bullying and developmental disabilities. The results were consistent and staggering.
All 10 studies found that children with disabilities were two to three times more likely to be victims of bullying than their non-disabled peers. Additionally, research showed that the bullying experienced by these students was more severe and most often directly related to the child’s disability.
Knowing how to stop bullying among these vulnerable students – and among all children – can be difficult if parents, students, and teachers don’t know the signs.
Bullying is aggressive behavior that is intentional, repeated over time, and that occurs within relationships where there is an imbalance of power. It can be verbal, physical, and psychological, taking the form of hitting, name-calling, and making threatening gestures. It can also take place as cyber-bullying.
Moves are afoot to improve existing bullying laws. Congress is considering the Safe Schools Improvement Act, which would require states and districts to collect information and conduct needs assessments. It would also require schools to include bullying policies in their disciplinary procedures and require states to provide assistance to stop the harassment.
The Pennsylvania Safe Schools Act, recently introduced in the state assembly, would strengthen Pennsylvania’s current bullying law by providing clearer definitions, follow-up requirements, and an online system for reporting and tracking incidents. Teachers would be required to take training in bullying prevention techniques.
In the meantime, here’s what parents can do to help prevent incidents and deal with them if they occur.
Talk to the child. Define bullying for children because they may not know. Ask if they have observed or experienced bullying. Tell them it is OK to report it, and it is not their fault.
Talk to teachers. Determine whether the teacher is aware of any bullying. Encourage action if it does occur.
Share information with parents. A good website is www.stopbullying.gov. The District’s homepage (www.philasd.org) has a bullying banner. Click it for information about District policy and procedures. There is also a bullying hotline: 215-400-7233.
Pass around the policy. Discuss the policy with the child’s teacher, review it with the school administrator, provide it to relevant school staff, and explain it to your child. If you are in a charter with no bullying policy, notify the board and request that one be created.
Ask for an IEP/504 meeting. If an incident occurs, request that school staff schedule an IEP (Individualized Education Program) or Section 504 meeting. (Section 504 teams address the needs of students with disabilities who require accommodations separate from special education services.) Discuss how to revise the plan to stop the bullying. This might include providing the student with an aide or ensuring the child is not left unaccompanied in bullying hot spots such as bathrooms and hallways. Ask for counseling or for a teacher to check in with the student throughout the day. Give the student acceptable options for responding to the bullying.
Put concerns in writing. Draft a letter to administrators and teachers detailing your complaint and ask for an investigation. District policy requires schools to investigate and share results with parents. Parents can also request a special education hearing.
Join the National Stop Bullying Campaign. Learn more at www.pacer.org/bullying, a national campaign that includes students with disabilities.