Yesterday, FIRE submitted a formal comment on the United States Commission on Civil Rights’ (USCCR’s) May 13 briefing on "Peer-to-Peer Violence and Bullying: Examining the Federal Response." Charged with monitoring federal civil rights enforcement, USCCR advises the federal Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR). Given the significant threats to free speech and due process raised by OCR’s recent guidance on bullying, harassment, and sexual violence, USCCR’s request for comments on its briefing presented a significant opportunity for FIRE to raise these concerns.
Although the briefing specifically concerned bullying in the K-12 setting, the tendency of restrictions on student rights in the K-12 setting to "trickle up" to higher education makes this an issue of serious concern to FIRE. Among the speakers at the briefing (video of which is available here) was Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Russlynn Ali, the author of OCR’s October 2010 guidance on bullying and harassment as well as the April 2011 guidance instructing universities to lower the standard of proof to a preponderance of the evidence when adjudicating sexual assault claims. UCLA law professor and First Amendment scholar Eugene Volokh also spoke at the briefing about the need to consider the First Amendment when addressing issues of bullying and harassment in schools.