Bullying, Harassment & Civil Rights: An Overview of School Districts’ Federal Obligation to Respond to Harassment

The video is designed to help schools, parents, and others who interact with kids understand the differences between harassment and bullying, and their legal obligations with respect to both.


This video has been developed as part of a collaboration among the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice, and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration of the Department of Health and Human Services.


In recent years, many state departments of education and local school districts have taken steps to reduce bullying in schools.  The movement to adopt anti-bullying policies reflects schools’ appreciation of their important responsibility to maintain a safe learning environment for all students.

Furthermore, some student misconduct that falls under a school’s anti-bullying policy also may trigger responsibilities under one or more of the federal anti-discrimination laws enforced by the Department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR).

Learning Objectives:

    1. Identify when bullying triggers obligations under federal anti-discrimination laws and what conduct constitutes harassment
    2. Understand the obligation of school districts to respond to allegations of harassment in a prompt, thorough, and effective manner
    3. Know what to do if the harassment continues



Some school anti-bullying policies already may list classes or traits on which bases bullying or harassment is specifically prohibited. Indeed, many schools have adopted anti-bullying policies that go beyond prohibiting bullying on the basis of traits expressly protected by the federal civil

Schools have a responsibility to create safe learning environments for all students. When harassment is based on a protected class and creates a hostile environment, schools have an obligation under federal civil rights laws to take action. Please use the resources identified in this video to support your own efforts to address harassment and help us all build safe, supportive learning environments for our young.