Published: Oct 26, 2010 6:41 PM EDT
Updated: Oct 26, 2010 3:41 PM EDT

WASHINGTON, DC (AP) - The U.S. Department of Education is sending a warning to schools, colleges and universities nationwide in response to several high-profile cases of bullying.

In letters going out Tuesday, the agency tells schools they could be violating federal anti-discrimination laws if they tolerate or fail to adequately address ethnic, sexual or gender-based harassment.

The department says it is responding to what it senses as a growing problem.

Among the cases are the suicides of an 18-year-old Rutgers University student and a 15-year-old Massachusetts girl.

Harassment based on race, color, national origin, sex or disability that creates a hostile environment and is encouraged, tolerated or not adequately addressed can be in violation of civil rights statutes.