Protecting Your Special Needs Student from Bullying

With students returning to school following the holiday weekend, it’s important to remember the disproportionate impact bullying can have on students with disabilities. Not only are students with learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder, autism, and other special needs more likely to be bullied than their peers, but they are also less likely to recognize an action as bullying, less likely to understand the harm the behavior is causing, and less likely to report the behavior to an adult. As a result, it’s even more necessary these issues are spotted and addressed as early as possible.

In light of this need, the U.S. Department of Education recently issued a statement reminding school officials of their obligations to identify and prevent the bullying of students with special needs. (See the letter here.) In the letter, the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services makes clear that the bullying of a student who is receiving special education services can result in the student not receiving a Free and Appropriate Public Education if the behavior prevents the student from receiving meaningful educational benefits.

Whenever a school becomes aware that a disabled student has been bullied, it should call a meeting of the student’s IEP team to determine if the student’s needs have changed and if the IEP needs to be changed. The school, however, should try to avoid a change in placement because the disabled student is still entitled to receive FAPE in the least restrictive environment, and this requirement cannot be avoided simply because of bullying behavior. Instead, whenever possible, the school should address the situation in a way that allows the student to continue their education in a meaningful and appropriate fashion.

If you have questions about your child’s education, contact me at or 413-570-3170.