A parent contacted me recently about her son with autism who attends a private school. A few months earlier, she had removed her son from the public school system after he was mercilessly bullied by other students. She had believed the private school would provide a safe haven for her son. Unfortunately, the bullying continued at the private school.
Bullying of a student cannot be tolerated by a school, whether the school is public or private. According to the Office of Civil Rights, a school where children don't feel sate is a school where children struggle to learn. Every student deserves to thrive in a safe school free of bullying.
Which law applies to protect a child with special needs enrolled in a private school depends, in part, on whether the child was placed in the school by a parent or by a school district. If the child was placed in the private school by the school district, protections available to public school students may apply. On the other hand, some of the laws that protect public school children from bullying or harassment may not be available to protect children who are parentally placed in a private school.
The good news is that if the private school receives federal financial assistance, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 may help. These laws may protect a child when peer harassment based on disability is sufficiently serious that it creates a hostile environment and this harassment is not adequately addressed by a school.
Additionally, under the California Education Code, schools that receive or benefit from state financial assistance or that enroll pupils who receive state financial aid, may not discriminate on the basis of disability. This law may help protect a child from harassment and bullying at school.
In general, complaints about a private school’s policies or practices would be addressed to and handled by that school’s administration, governing board, owner, or affiliated church. Filling a complaint with one of these entities may possibly be how a parent begins to seek help for their bullied child at a private school. Before filing such a complaint it is advised that the parent seek the advice of an attorney or an advocate.
Martha Millar Law
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