Bullying Victimization as a Disability in Public Elementary and Secondary Education

Douglas E. Abrams, University of Missouri School of Law


Since the student assault on Columbine High School in 1999, virtually all states have enacted or amended anti-bullying legislation. The laws require state education departments or local public school districts to adopt written anti-bullying policies, teach prevention curricula, discipline bullies, and cooperate with law enforcement authorities when bullying turns criminal. Local enforcement of these legislative mandates, however, may be inhibited by disincentives such as curriculum-development costs and risks of lawsuits by parents of disciplined bullies. Administrators and teachers may feel greater incentives to enforce statutory mandates to protect bullying (and cyberbullying) victims if these school authorities perceive the effects of victimization as similar to the effects of disabilities recognized by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) since 1975. Professor Abrams’ article discusses two reasons why the effects of bullying victimization can resemble the effects of IDEA disabilities -- both create educational deprivation that inhibits learning, and both appeared on legislative radar screens only after being largely ignored for decades.