Bullying and Harassment

The following is a combination of excerpts from the Dear Colleague Letter and the Fact Sheet that was sent out by the Department of Education.


What does the Dear Colleague letter (DCL) do?

  • Clarifies the relationship between bullying and discriminatory harassment under the civil rights laws enforced by the Department of Education’s (ED) Office for Civil Rights (OCR).
  • Explains how student misconduct that falls under an anti‐bullying policy also may trigger responsibilities under one or more of the anti‐discrimination statutes enforced by OCR.
  • Reminds schools that failure to recognize discriminatory harassment when addressing student misconduct may lead to inadequate or inappropriate responses that fail to remedy violations of students’ civil rights. Colleges and universities have the same obligations under the anti‐discrimination statutes as elementary and secondary schools.
  • Discusses racial and national origin harassment, sexual harassment, gender‐based harassment, and disability harassment and illustrates how a school should respond in each case.

Explication of what is considered Bullying/Harassment

  • Harassing conduct may take many forms, including verbal acts and name‐calling; graphic and written statements, which may include use of cell phones or the Internet; or other conduct that may be physically threatening, harmful, or humiliating. Harassment does not have to include intent to harm, be directed at a specific target, or involve repeated incidents. Harassment creates a hostile environment when the conduct is sufficiently severe, pervasive, or persistent so as to interfere with or limit a student’s ability to participate in or benefit from the services, activities, or opportunities offered by a school. When such harassment is based on race, color, national origin, sex, or disability, it violates the civil rights laws that OCR enforces.
  • In some situations, harassment may be in plain sight, widespread, or well‐known to students and staff, such as harassment occurring in hallways, during academic or physical education classes, during extracurricular activities, at recess, on a school bus, or through graffiti in public areas. In these cases, the obvious signs of the harassment are sufficient to put the school on notice. In other situations, the school may become aware of misconduct, triggering an investigation that could lead to the discovery of additional incidents that, taken together, may constitute a hostile environment. In all cases, schools should have well‐publicized policies prohibiting harassment and procedures for reporting and resolving complaints…

Resources Mentioned in the DCL

Sexual Harassment: It’s Not Academic (Revised 2008): http://www.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/ocrshpam.html

Dear Colleague Letter: Sexual Harassment Issues (2006):http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/letters/sexhar‐2006.html

Dear Colleague Letter: Religious Discrimination (2004):http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/religious‐rights2004.html

Dear Colleague Letter: First Amendment (2003):http://www.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/firstamend.html18

Sexual Harassment Guidance (Revised 2001): http://www.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/shguide.html

Dear Colleague Letter: Prohibited Disability Harassment (2000): http://www.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/disabharassltr.html

Racial Incidents and Harassment Against Students (1994): http://www.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/race394.html

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