Last Updated on August 28, 2023 by Michelle Ball
By Michelle Ball, Sacramento California Expulsion, Special Education, sports/CIF, College, Education and School Attorney/Lawyer for Students since 1995
Bullying seems to be everywhere in schools. What if the bullied student or the bully are special needs students and it is impacting their education? Can the IEP (Individualized Education Program) team get involved to support the student? Yes!
First, Report Bullying
If student bullying is occurring, parents can report it using the school or school district report form, which is usually on their website. If not, inquiries can be made in the school office for bullying report forms.
Once notified, a California public school should take action to investigate and remedy the bullying. While that is occurring, special needs parents can ask for additional supports via the IEP team.
Parents Can Ask the IEP Team to Help the Bullied Student
Whether a student is a special needs or general education student does not impact the obligation of a California public school to remedy known or observed student bullying.
Sometimes students who are bullied are special needs students. If a special needs student is now experiencing academic, mental health, or other impacts due to the bullying, parents can seek help via the group which establishes their special education services and supports, aka the IEP team.
A parent can request an IEP team convene to discuss the impacts of bullying on a student, and to seek additional services and supports to assist the bullied student. Parents can work with the IEP team to determine if the student is still receiving FAPE (Free and Appropriate Public Education) and if the student is still making adequate yearly progress. If not, adjustments can be made.
Bullying can impact students so greatly that the student may have their attention fixated on the bullying throughout the school day and beyond. School supports can be sought to assist the special needs student via academic, behavioral, emotional and/ or other supports.
Seeking Help for the Bullying Special Needs Student
Special education students who are bullying others might also seek help from the IEP team.
Bullying another student can evidence something else going on with a student which needs to be addressed. Why is the student bullying others? Is there a social communication issue and the student does not understand what they are saying is inappropriate? Maybe more speech or language services are needed to address the problem.
Is the student having home issues which are bleeding over into school? Perhaps weekly meetings with a school support person are needed.
The IEP team can convene to discuss what has been going on, determine if assessments are needed, and offer services and supports to help the student. Or, assessments can be arranged to get to the bottom of the situation.
A parent can request an IEP meeting to discuss options and the student’s needs.
Questions IEP Teams Can Explore
Some questions the IEP team could ask about a bullied or bullying student are:
Is the student able to focus in class or do they have their mind on the bully or the bullying all day long and cannot attend to their studies?
Is the bullying actually unintentional and the student just does not understand how their communication is being perceived?
Is the student now fearful to walk around school? Has the student separated themselves from other students at school?
Have the student’s grades and schoolwork declined due to the bullying situation?
Are assessments needed to determine if behavioral, emotional and/or other supports are needed for the student?
What services, supports and accommodations can be put in place to help the student right now?
The IEP team can add services and supports to assist the student to focus on their schoolwork again, or to help them recover from any trauma.
Bullied or Bullying Students Not Yet Special Education Students?
Often bullies or the bullied student are not special education students.
Regardless, ALL reported, observed, or known student bullying, MUST be addressed in California public schools. Special education qualification has no impact on the school’s legal duty to address student bullying.
Sometimes, while a bullying situation is being addressed or even after a bullying matter has been resolved, parents may notice a change in a student. If the change is impacting the student emotionally, academically or otherwise, it is possible the student may qualify for additional school supports.
If a parent thinks a bullied or bullying student might be experiencing a medical or mental health condition which could qualify them for special education, they can ask for the student to be assessed for special education under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and/or Section 504.
Michelle Ball has been an attorney for students since 1995 and can help with special education and bullying issues. A centrally located lawyer, in Sacramento, California, Michelle can assist throughout California, in Hollister, Antelope, El Dorado Hills, Lodi, and many other locations.