Toolbox Tuesday: Should we be talking about bullying at the ARD meeting?

Our law firm’s Toolbox Training focuses on service to students whose behaviors may be hard to deal with.  When we think of behaviors that are hard to deal with, we would have to include bullying….dontcha think?  So why would a school refuse to discuss how bullying is affecting a student with a disability at the meeting that is held for the purpose of designing an appropriate plan for the student’s education?

I don’t know.  There are things that come up at an ARD meeting that are not the province of the ARD Committee. But I don’t see how bullying is one of them. If the parent tells the ARD Committee that the student is having trouble at school because of bullying, let’s talk about it.  Failure to do that might put your district in the position of the New York City school district in the case of Ciancotto v. NYC DOE. 

The suit alleges two years’ of pervasive bullying of a student based on his sexual orientation.  The suit also alleges that the district failed to address these concerns in any meaningful way, and specifically declined to address the issue in the student’s IEPs.

The parent first sought legal recourse through a special education due process hearing at which the district completely capitulated, admitting its failure to provide FAPE.  The parent then sued in federal court alleging that the district violated Title IX and Section 504.  The district’s Motion to Dismiss was rejected as the court noted that the allegations in the complaint were more than adequate to allege a plausible claim.

Later this week I will address Title IX and other issues prompted by this case, but today, let’s just think about that IEP Team meeting.  According to the lawsuit, two school officials informed the parent that bullying was not the type of thing to be addressed in an IEP. Why not? We are charged with considering the child’s situation holistically, reviewing all of the circumstances.  Can bullying have an adverse impact on a child’s education? Of course.  Isn’t the annual ARD meeting the time to address all of the issues?  Yes. So let’s be sure that all concerns raised by parents or teachers are addressed.  If the student is the target of bullying, and this is adversely affecting the student’s progress, let’s come up with specific plans to address the concern. Those plans might involve a BIP, teaching the student how to deal with ugly name-calling and other types of rudeness. It might involve placement considerations—where will this student be served? It might involve a safety plan. But above all, let’s not say “that’s not something we deal with in an ARD meeting.”

The case is Ciancotto v. NYC DOE, decided by the federal court for the Southern District of New York on April 22, 2022. It’s published in Special Educator at 80 IDELR 270.


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Tomorrow: “if you just were not so openly gay….”