Kevin Jennings, head of the federal Safe and Drug Free Schools office, addresses the problem of bullying with the authority of experience, having been bullied by his peers as a schoolboy and, years later (in 2009) by social conservatives who tried to derail his appointment to the Department of Education, citing, in part, his embrace of a "homosexual agenda." So Jennings should be sensitive to bullying based on status and on the expression of unpopular ideas. But whatever lessons he may have learned about the importance of protecting the freedom to say what you choose -- as well as the safety to be who you choose -- are not reflected in the administration's crusade against bullying. If Department of Education officials intended to demonstrate a penchant for gratuitous bureaucratic overreach and disregard for individual rights, they've succeeded.
An October 26, 2010 "Dear Colleague" letter from the Education Department's Office of Civil Rights (OCR) presents school administrators nationwide with expansive definitions of harassment and bullying that effectively encourage schools anxious to avoid liability to impose very broad restrictions on student speech. (The Daily Caller reported on OCR's letter in an article that's somewhat sensationalized but essentially true.) Noting that federal laws protect students from discrimination based on race, national origin, sex, or disability, OCR provides a definition of actionable harassment considerably broader than the definition supplied by the Supreme Court some ten years ago.