Disability Related Bullying

When a student with a disability is being bullied at school, the bullying can result in a denial of a free appropriate public education (FAPE) under Section 504 and the IDEA.

Bullying on the Basis of Disability

    A school is required to take “immediate and appropriate action to investigate or otherwise determine what occurred” when the school knows, or should know, a student is being bullied based on the student’s disability. If the investigation reveals the bullying created a hostile environment, “the school must take prompt and effective steps reasonably calculated to end the bullying, eliminate the hostile environment, prevent it from recurring, and, as appropriate, remedy its effects.”

The school must also investigate whether the bullying affected the student’s receipt of services or access to his or her education. Even if no hostile environment existed, the school must still address FAPE-related concerns.

Bullying on Any Basis

    When a child with a disability is bullied on any basis (not just on the basis of the child’s disability), and the child receives services under the IDEA, the school should convene an IEP meeting to “determine whether, as a result of the effects of the bullying, the student’s needs have changed such that the IEP is no longer designed to provide a meaningful educational benefit.”

A similar requirement exists when the child receives services under Section 504.

If the team determines the student’s needs have changed, the school must determine which additional or different services are needed, make any necessary changes, and “safeguard against putting the onus on the student with the disability to avoid or handle the bullying.”


    Some common issues we see arise regarding bullying include:

  • Inadequate investigation of bullying complaints by school administrators;
  • Inappropriate actions taken in response to bullying complaints (e.g., removing the bullied child rather than the bully from the class/extra-curricular activity); and
  • Students who become unable to attend school due to bullying resulting in a denial of FAPE.