Senate passes Anti-Bullying Bill

Today the State Senate unanimously passed An Act Relative to Bullying, bullying-prevention legislation that prohibits physical, verbal and written acts that threaten or cause harm to another student, including Internet “cyber-bullying”, and requires schools to develop a bullying prevention and intervention plan in consultation with teachers, school staff, professional support personnel, administrators, students and parents.

The anti-bullying legislation was largely based on a bill I originally filed last year, and it’s something I and my office have been working very hard on over the past few months. You can read the speech I delivered on the floor of the Senate today here.

The bill that passed today 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 like those in South Hadley, Springfield and too many other communities. Every student deserves to feel safe in their own schools, and this bill is a strong step in that direction.

The bill, which now moves on to the House, requires all school districts, charter schools and non-public schools to develop prevention and intervention plans by December 31, 2010 that include procedures for investigating bullying incidents, notifying parents and determining appropriate disciplinary actions.

The bill requires school principals to notify local law enforcement of bullying incidents if there is reason to believe criminal charges may be pursued. It also allows Individualized Education Programs for children with special needs to include provisions that will help them handle and respond to incidents of bullying. The bullying ban extends to all school facilities, school-sponsored functions, school buses and bus stops.

The bill that passed also included two amendments that I worked on with MassEquality, a statewide LGBT advocacy group that supported this bill. These amendments will ensure that bullying prevention training programs include research on populations of students most likely to be bullied, and that the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education periodically reviews school districts to be sure they are properly implementing programs and trainings.

There is nothing I or the legislature could do that could begin to mitigate the tragedy bullying has brought to families across the Commonwealth. However, we can work together to pass this crucial legislation as soon as possible. And, in so doing, prevent more of our friends, neighbors and loved ones from ever knowing that same sadness.

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