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Bullying May Violate Gay Students' Rights, Ed Dept. Warns

If you didn't catch the message in new federal guidance issued about bullying this week, it's worth taking a look. The Ed Department is letting folks know that some types of harassment based on religion or sexual orientation/gender expression might constitute a federal civil rights violation. (My colleague Christina Samuels explains the new guidance in a blog post here, and a story here.)

This comes as the administration is putting a higher profile on the bullying issue, in the wake of a rash of troubling incidents, such as the death of Tyler Clementi, a Rutgers University student who committed suicide after his same-sex encounter was distributed online, and a string of suicides by younger students who've been harassed because of their sexuality. A recent study also detailed harassment of gay students on college campuses.

Both President Barack Obama and Ed Sec Arne Duncan have made strong points lately of condemning bullying, and the White House is planning a series of technical assistance workshops and a conference on the issue early next year. It's an issue the administration has been focusing on since 2009, and the Ed Department's safe-schools point man, Kevin Jennings, has been highlighting it during his speaking engagements.

You can read what Duncan and Obama had to say on the topic this week in the Ed Department's press release, or listen to comments by Duncan, Jennings, the department's civil-rights chief Russlynn Ali, and Melody Barnes, the director of Obama's Domestic Policy Council, in a conference call with reporters.

And as if we needed more evidence that the bullying problem is widespread, a study issued in Los Angeles today finds that half of high school students admit to bullying someone in the past year, and nearly half report being bullied themselves.

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