The U.S. Department of Education is warning schools: Tolerating or failing to adequately address ethnic, sexual or gender-based harassment could put them in violation of federal anti-discrimination laws.
After several high-profile cases of bullying, the department is sending letters to schools, colleges and universities across the country on Tuesday, reminding them of their federal obligations.
Russlynn Ali, assistant secretary for civil rights, said the department was responding to what it senses as a growing problem within schools.
She said the Office for Civil Rights had received 800 complaints alleging harassment over the last fiscal year, and that reports from the field indicate an increase of harassment against certain groups - including gays and lesbians, as well as Muslim students after the 9/11 attacks.
In September, 18-year-old Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi committed suicide after his roommate secretly webcast his dorm-room tryst with a man, police said. The roommate and another student have been charged with invasion of privacy, and authorities are considering whether to add a hate-crime charge.