What is the difference between “Bullying” and “Harassment”?

Harassment, or more specifically “discriminatory harassment,” happens when someone is targeted because they belong, or appear to belong, to a protected class, and when the conduct is so serious that it creates a hostile environment.

If a student is bullied, made fun of, or targeted because of their race, color, national origin, religion, disability, sexual orientation, gender expression, gender identity, or use of a service animal, and it creates a hostile environment, if a school knows about it but does not take appropriate steps to address it that can be a kind of discrimination.  That can include sexual harassment, or racial harassment.

You can read more about discriminatory harassment, and find information about students’ rights in relation to discriminatory harassment in 11 languages, at OSPI’s Equity & Civil Rights page, here: http://www.k12.wa.us/Equity/DiscriminatoryHarassment/default.aspx

In addition to having a policy and procedure to address bullying (the HIB Policy and Procedure), every district is required to have a policy and process to address complaints of discrimination, including discriminatory harassment. Each district also must identify Civil Rights Compliance Coordinators.

Students or families can also file complaints of discriminatory harassment with the OSPI Equity & Civil Rights Office, or the US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.

For more information about discrimination complaints, visit OSPI’s Equity & Civil Rights Office webpage, or contact them at 360-725-6162. You can also check out our short toolkit on Discrimination Complaints.