Parts I and II of this essay urge school authorities, parents, and other concerned citizens to perceive bullying victimization as a disability that burdens targeted students. Since 1975, the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) has guaranteed “full educational opportunity to all children with disabilities” in every state. The IDEA reaches both congenital disabilities and disabilities that, like bullying victimization, stem from events or circumstances unrelated to biology or birth. To set the context for perceiving bullying victimization as an educational disability, Part I describes the public schools' central role in protecting bullied students, and then briefly discusses the schools' statutory and constitutional authority to provide this protection, a discussion that summarizes writings I have presented elsewhere. Part II then explains why, without amending the IDEA or other disability laws, perceiving bullying as a disability makes sound pedagogical sense as schools implement state anti-bullying legislation. Social science research demonstrates that, similar to the physical or emotional conditions recognized in the IDEA, bullying victimization that evades prevention efforts may compromise a student's capacity to learn. One bullying researcher hits the target: “Without a safe and secure environment, a school is unable to fulfill its basic purpose of providing an education." Teachers and school administrators familiar with the IDEA have grown accustomed to perceiving a disabled student's fragile physical or emotional condition as a barrier to learning. Bullying can leave student victims similarly fragile, and perceptions matter in the public schools as much as in other areas of everyday life.
Douglas E. Abrams, School Bullying Victimization As an Educational Disability, 22 Temp. Pol. & Civ. Rts. L. Rev. 273 (2013)