Bullying of Children with Disabilities - Part X

In My Room from the Bully Series
In My Room from the Bully Series (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Bullying remains the hottest of hot button issues in special education law. 
In the first installment of this series, I explained the early cases laying the conceptual groundwork for the proposition that failure to react to bullying can constitute a denial of FAPE under IDEA.  In later installments, I have discussed the seminal decision of TK & SK ex rel LK v. New York City Dept of Educ 779 F.Supp.2d 289, 56 IDELR 228 (E.D.N.Y. 4/25/2011).  This case is important not just because it analyzes special education law principles involving bullying, but also because it provides a thorough review of the social science literature on bullying. You should read this case and you can do so here.
Here is more from the court...these are not my words:

F. Effects on Children

If nothing is done to rectify the situation, a bully is likely to continue bullying and victimization continues. Olweus, supra, at 27. Thus, without a change in the dynamic, a child who suffers at the hands of a tormentor, is unlikely to be able to escape. And the effects of bullying are likely to continue unabated. Id. at 28. Each child can be bully, victim, or bystander. And with each of those labels comes different, but often related consequences.

1. Victim

The typical victim of bullying is more anxious and insecure than her peers. Olweus, supra, at 32. She is more likely to be quiet, sensitive, and have low self-esteem. Id. It is important to note, however, that not all victims react in the same way. Macklem, supra, at 63.
"Students who are bullied in schools have no escape from bullying other than feigning illness and staying home which is a very temporary reprieve." Id. at 61. Not surprisingly, being a victim is most strongly associated with a feeling that one did not belong at school and an increase in the classroom days missed. Id. at 70; Glew, supra, at 1030. "Feeling as though one did not belong at school was most strongly associated with being the victim; the odds of members of this group being a victim were 4.1 times higher than those who felt they belonged at school" Glew, supra, at 1030. "For students who felt sad most days, their odds of being a victim were 1.8 times higher than the odds of being a victim among those who did not feel sad most days." Id. Being sad most days is known to be a precursor to diagnoses of major depression. Id.
"The take-home message is that elementary school-aged children ... who struggle academically are more likely to be victims or bully-victims." Id. (defining a "bully-victim" as one who both is the victim of bullying and the bully at different times). Bullying brings with it a whole host of other issues. It impairs concentration and leads to poorer academic performance. Id. Additionally, victims are more likely to engage in antisocial behavior, have increased health problems, and struggle to adjust emotionally. See Macklem, supra, at 68 ("Being the victim of bullying is related to sliding grades, absenteeism, poor academic achievement, being lonely, exhibiting withdrawal behaviors, difficulty acting assertively, or being aggressive."); Snyder, supra, at 1881, 1887; Nansel, supra, at 733-34 ("Youth involved in bullying —as bully, victim, or both—consistently reported significantly higher levels of health problems, poorer emotional adjustment, and poorer school adjustment than non-involved youth. Victims and bully victims also consistently reported significantly poorer relationships with classmates than uninvolved youth.")
[ 779 F.Supp.2d 305 ]

Victims who are friends of a non-victim peer are less likely to internalize problems such as feelings of depression and sadness. Rodkin, supra, at 36. Even children as young as those in first grade who have one friend and do not suffer in isolation, have fewer problems than children who have no peer to rely upon. Id. "The victims are lonely and abandoned at school. As a rule, they do not have a single good friend in their class." Olweus, supra, at 32. This solitude perpetuates feelings of shame and unattractiveness, and a belief that the victim is stupid. Id.
Children with feelings of rejection and loneliness, withdraw and have trouble making new friends. Macklem, supra, at 68. "Withdrawal because a child is rejected by peers places the child at a greater risk [of isolation] than is the case for children who prefer to play alone or who are socially anxious." Id. Victims have lower self-esteem and begin blaming themselves for what is happening. Id. at 69 ("Self-esteem drops once a child becomes a victim.... They blame themselves for being victimized, and give in quickly or respond in a disorganized manner when they are teased or bullied."). "Self-views are unlikely to change for the better, unless the child who has been victimized becomes more accepted in the group." Id.
The end of school does not bring an end to the damage done by years of harassment. As a result of this trapped setting, where harassment is a repeated occurrence, victims carry lasting emotional and psychological scars into adulthood. Id. at 68 (citing Olweus study that found those who were bullied for at least three years in grades six through nine had higher rates of depressive symptoms and lower self-esteem when they were twenty-three years old.)
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