US warns schools they may be liable when bullying is ignored

N.J. lawmakers file ‘bill of rights’

By Christine Armario
Associated Press / October 26, 2010

E-mail this article

Invalid E-mail address
Invalid E-mail address

Sending your article

Your article has been sent.

Text size +

WASHINGTON — The US Department of Education will warn schools that tolerating or failing to adequately address ethnic, sexual, or gender-based harassment could violate antidiscrimination laws.

Following several high-profile cases of bullying, the department will write to schools, colleges, and universities today, reminding them of their obligations.

Russlynn Ali, assistant secretary for civil rights, said the department was responding to what it senses is a growing problem. The Office for Civil Rights received 800 complaints alleging harassment in the last fiscal year, and reports from the field indicate an increase in harassment of certain groups, including gays, lesbians, and Muslims.

In September, a Rutgers University student, Tyler Clementi, 18, committed suicide after his roommate secretly webcast his dorm-room tryst with a man. The roommate and another student have been charged with invasion of privacy, and authorities are considering a hate-crime charge.

In January, a South Hadley, Mass., girl, Phoebe Prince, 15, took her life after being relentlessly bullied by classmates, prosecutors said. Six teenagers have been charged.

Also yesterday, New Jersey lawmakers introduced an “antibullying bill of rights’’ that one advocate said would be the toughest state law of its kind.

Introduced by a bipartisan group of legislators and advocates, it seeks to augment laws New Jersey passed eight years ago. It would require antibullying programs in public K-12 schools and language in college codes of conduct to address bullying.

US Education Secretary Arne Duncan sought to assure students that action will be taken.

“No one should ever feel harassed or unsafe in a school simply because they act or think or dress differently than others,’’ Duncan said.