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Our son has ADHD and a learning disability related to writing and language processing. He has an IEP.

Our son is very small, wears glasses, is not good at athletics, and, like so many kids with ADHD, is rather immature socially. Since starting middle school two years ago, he has been a frequent target of bullies. This past year, along with many other less serious incidents, he was punched in the face on two separate occasions by another student (different students) while in class.

Despite the number and severity of the occurrences, the school refuses to acknowledge bullying as a problem or to take steps to deal with it. Rather, they insist the incidents are isolated incidents that just happen with kids that age. Accordingly, they discipline the bullying students very leniently (but only in incidents involving physical violence; the verbal harassment is not disciplined.) Even if the same student proceeds with further bullying behavior, it is treated as a totally separate incident. The school refuses to increase disciplinary measures for continued bullying by a student.

My husband and I have spoken with the school many, many time; we’ve called an IEP to request an anti-bullying program and social skills training for our son, but were denied. I contacted a group of parents of students with disabilities at the school, and one of the mothers told me that her daughter had been concerned for the past couple of years about how our son was treated by “some other students”, but that she had thought it was limited to verbal abuse. However, the parents’ group was unable to provide any avenue we had not tried.

What more can we do? We truly believe our son will not be safe (physically or psychologically) if he continues to attend this school.

Thank you

Dear Maureen:
Your question raises serious concerns with respect to how to respond when your child is subjected to repeated bullying and the school fails to respond. A number of steps may be available to you, none of which provides an ideal or perfect solution to this very difficult problem.

First, under the New No Child Left Behind provisions, a child who is subject to violence from other students is entitled to automatic transfer to another school in order to ensure their safety. Obviously, you should not have to transfer your child in order to obtain their safety, but if the school is unable or unwilling to respond in any other way, this may be a necessary step in order to secure a safe environment for your child.

Second, because schools may be liable for injuries that a child suffers when they are on notice of the harassment or bullying, it is important for you to provide the school district with a clear, detailed, specific and written statement documenting the bullying that your child is experiencing and demanding that the school take appropriate action to protect your child.

Third, when your child is subject to continuous bullying, you may have a basis for filing an abuse or neglect report with the appropriate child welfare agency in your state based on your child not being appropriately supervised. Although it is relatively unlikely that the child welfare agency would take action in relation to such a report, the investigation itself would trigger the school to take the matter more seriously. On the other hand, please be careful not to file a false report or a report for the purposes of harassing the school as false or harassing reports may subject you to some legal responsibility.

Finally, you may consider filing criminal charges against the children if your child is subject to repeated offenses, as this may be the only way to force the families of the children to take action against their children.

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