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Civil Rights and Bullying Compliance Report FAQs

Under federal law, the Tennessee Department of Education (as a recipient of federal financial assistance) is required to ensure its subrecipients’ compliance with federal civil rights laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, national origin, color,1 and sex2. Under state law, all local education agencies (LEAs) are required to implement bullying and harassment policies and report bullying statistics to the department of education (department).3 The department created the annual Civil Rights and Bullying Compliance Report to collect Title VI, Title IX, and bullying and harassment compliance information, in order to comply with these obligations under federal and state law.

To assist school administrators in the accurate and consistent submission of the annual Civil Rights and Bullying Compliance Report, the following FAQs have been compiled. This page will be updated periodically as concerns and questions come to the department’s attention.

Questions on bullying, civil rights, and the annual Civil Rights and Bullying Compliance Report should be directed to Peachie Jones, (615) 253-1550.

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  1. Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VI) prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, national origin, and color in programs receiving federal financial assistance. The implementing regulations for the United States Department of Education are located at 34 C.F.R. Part 100. See 34 C.F.R. § 100.4 and §100.6 regarding specific obligations of the department.
  2. Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (Title IX) prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in programs receiving federal financial assistance. The implementing regulations for the United States Department of Education are located at 34 C.F.R. Part 106. See 34 C.F.R. § 106.4 and §106.8 regarding specific obligations of the department.
  3. The state bullying and harassment laws are found at Tennessee Code Annotated (T.C.A.) § 49-6-1014 et al. LEAs must submit bullying statistics to the department in accordance with T.C.A. § 49-6-1016(c).

Last updated: December 2013

Civil Rights FAQs

Which programs qualify as “athletics” under Title IX?

Instead of a specific definition of the term “sport” or “athletic program,” the United States Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR) considers two main questions (with several underlying factors) to determine whether a program qualifies as an athletic program for purposes of Title IX:

  1. (i) Is the program structured and administered similarly to other established athletic programs? – Are the operating budget and support services administered the same as other athletic programs? Who constitutes the coaching staff?
  2. (ii) Does the program prepare for and engage in competitions in a manner consistent with other athletic programs? – Are practice opportunities and pre-season, regular, and postseason season competitive opportunities similar to other athletic programs? Are competitions governed by rules, an athletics association, and a defined season? Is the primary purpose to compete (or to support other athletic programs)? Are resources based on competitive needs?

School administrators should engage in this same analysis and determine which of its programs can be classified as athletic programs. As athletic programs will vary district to district, LEAs should plan to list which programs it considers “athletic programs” in the compliance report for the 2013-2014 school year.

(OCR’s “Dear Colleague Letter” discussing in detail the foregoing analysis is available here.)

Bullying FAQs

What is bullying?

Several definitions of bullying exist, but bullying always involves at least these elements: (1) unwanted, aggressive behavior, (2) involving an actual or perceived imbalance of power, that is (3) repeated or occurring over a period of time.*

Tennessee Code Annotated § 49-6-1015 authorizes and requires a district to address harassment, intimidation, bullying, and cyber-bullying – behavior that “substantially interferes with a student’s educational benefits, opportunities or performance” whether occurring on or off of school property. While LEAs may want to reference this statutory authorization in their policies, LEAs should specifically define bullying. Bullying is peer abuse. Not all behavior that “substantially interferes” with the school environment rises to this level and constitutes bullying. Community members will understand this as policies clearly distinguish bullying from harassment.

*For example, many schools have adopted the definition of bullying developed by Dan Olweus and used in the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program.

What is a case of bullying?

Bullying, by definition, involves repeated instances of aggressive behavior. The state bullying law (and compliance report) seeks information on the number of cases, each of which involves several individual acts of aggression. A case of bullying, then, is the set of circumstances comprising the pattern or bullying campaign between one bully and one victim.

For example, if a parent reports to a principal that another student (let’s call her Bridget) has posted abusive remarks on Facebook, tripped her child (let’s call her Vanessa) on the bus, and spread rumors throughout the school about her child, this would constitute a single case of bullying. All of these actions constitute the bullying of one student (Vanessa) by another single student (Bridget). If, however, the aggressor (Bridget) successfully encourages another student (let’s call her Diana) to also bully Vanessa, the bullying of Vanessa by Diana constitutes another case of bullying. Moreover, Bridget’s bullying of a student who stood up for Vanessa (let’s call her Sally) would also constitute another case of bullying, even though it is related and connected to prior bullying.

To whom should students, parents, and school-community members report bullying?

Ideally, students, parents, and community members should report to the individual(s) designated by the school or LEA to receive complaints and address bullying. The identity of this individual is likely included in the Student Handbook.

Additionally, each LEA must provide to the department of education the identity and contact information for the individual responsible for the entire LEA’s bullying and harassment compliance. This and other information is available for each district in the Appendix to the Bullying and Harassment Compliance Report compiled by the department. Students, parents, and community members can ask or confirm with the LEA’s bullying compliance officer the name of the person responsible for bullying at a particular school.

Does an LEA have to report (in the compliance report) all complaints or grievances that are labeled or identified as bullying?

Yes. Every complaint or grievance of a case of bullying provided to the LEA should be reported to the department of education. Once an individual makes a formal or informal request for help and/or intervention, an LEA should consider it “reported” and include that set of circumstances in its statistics (of course, also abiding by the department’s definition of “a case of bullying”).

If an LEA believes that students or community members over-utilize the term “bullying,” an LEA should increase its education and training to enable community members to accurately understand “bullying” and differentiate it from other forms of inappropriate behavior.

Please note that the bullying compliance report also requires an LEA to report the number of cases of confirmed bullying, and this second number provides context and contrast to the number of reported cases.

Does an LEA have to report (in the compliance report) a single case of bullying multiple times?

Possibly. In the annual civil rights and bullying compliance report, the department requests LEAs to report the number of (confirmed) cases of bullying involving race, national origin, or color; sex; and disability, in addition to the number of complaints of Title IV or Title IX discrimination. As such, it is quite possible that a single of set of circumstances will be reported in several areas in the compliance report.

For example, a student (Alex) may repeatedly call a fellow student (Chris) names impugning the student’s sexual or moral character on Facebook and spread rumors regarding Chris’s alleged dating and sex life. At school, Alex persuades other students to exclude Chris and to spread the rumors that Alex shared with them. Chris’s mother prints off the Facebook posts and provides them to the school principal. An LEA would report this as “a reported case of bullying,” a bullying case “involving sex or gender‐based discrimination,” a bullying case “involving the use of electronic technology,” and a complaint alleging sex discrimination under Title IX.

Are LEAs obligated to investigate every reported case of bullying?

Yes, but not to the same extent. “Investigate” means to “try to find out the facts about something, in order to learn how it happened, who did it, etc.” or “to try to get information about.” School administrators regularly investigate circumstances in their schools - whether formally or informally, simply or thoroughly - for purposes of discipline or adjustment to education services. If after a preliminary or initial investigation, evidence does not indicate that a reported case of bullying is bullying, it is unnecessary to complete a lengthier investigation. School administrators should use their judgment in determining the depth of investigation employed in each set of circumstances.

Even so, Tennessee Code Annotated § 49-6-1016 (d)(1) does require a principal or designee “investigate harassment, intimidation, bullying or cyber-bullying when … physical harm or threat of physical harm” has occurred and provide an investigative report and findings to the director of schools and chairman of the board of education.

Which kinds of circumstances qualify as "involving the use of electronic technology"?

This category aims to capture reports of “cyber-bullying” - when students bully using electronic means of communication and social media (such as texting, Facebook, and Twitter).