The Massachusetts Senate today approved a bill to crack down on bullying in schools, which organizers say is a growing problem that is being exacerbated by communication over the Internet.
The measure, which passed on a vote of 38-0, attempts to address both old-style in-person bullying – the kind that has plagued schools for years – and cyberbullying. The legislation now goes to the state House of Representatives.
“This is comprehensive, prevention-oriented legislation that will work to end the persistent cycle of bullying we’ve seen in the Commonwealth’s schools for years, leading to tragedies,” said Senator Jamie Eldridge, an Acton Democrat. “Every student deserves to feel safe in their own schools, and this bill is a strong step in that direction.”
The legislation follows recent high-profile cases of students enduring abuse by bullies. In the most recent one, Phoebe Prince, 15, of South Hadley is thought to have committed suicide in January after allegedly being abused both in school and online by classmates at South Hadley High School.
The bill, Senate 2283, defines and bans bullying and cyberbullying; prohibits retaliation against anyone who reports it; requires schools to develop bullying prevention programs; requires staff to report bullying to the principal; and requires the principal to investigate and take appropriate action. The principal must also notify the police if he or she believes criminal charges are warranted.
A proposed Senate amendment to require school administrators to report bullying to the district attorney failed today.
The bill is being backed by a 50-member coalition led by the Anti-Defamation League of New England that included organizations ranging from the Massachusetts Association of School Committees and the Massachusetts Teachers Association to the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association and Microsoft Corp.
Forty-one other states already have such a law, organizers have said.
The governor, Senate president, and House speaker have all urged strong legislation to stop bullies.
“The time for action against bullying is now,” Governor Deval Patrick said in a statement after the bill was approved recently by the Education Committee.