Conference Committee Releases Final Anti-Bullying Bill

BOSTON – Thursday, State Senator Jamie Eldridge, along with his colleagues in the legislature, will enact a final bill aimed at preventing bullying in all its forms and providing clear structure for how school districts should respond. The bill, which defines and bans bullying in schools, also requires that prevention and intervention plans be developed in every school across the Commonwealth.

The final anti-bullying legislation was filed by a joint Senate-House conference committee, to which Eldridge was a Senate appointee, today. It defines and prohibits physical, verbal and written acts that threaten or cause harm to another student, including Internet “cyber-bullying,” and extends these prohibitions to all school facilities, school-sponsored functions, school buses and bus stops. It also 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.

“Over the past few months, I’ve heard so many heartbreaking stories from constituents – both parents and children – who have strong concerns about bullying in our schools. The urgent need to act was clear, and I’m glad that we’re able to move this bill on to be passed as soon as possible,” said State Senator Jamie Eldridge. “This final bill is a strong step towards ensuring that every child, in every school in the Commonwealth, feels safe coming to school, and that our schools have the tools they need to create a safe school climate and put a stop to bullying.”

Age-appropriate instruction for students in each grade on bullying prevention will be incorporated into a public school’s curriculum, in addition to professional development for teachers and other staff to help them identify and prevent bullying. These changes will go into effect beginning for next school year.  School districts will also be required to offer education to parents about bullying prevention.  The Department will aid districts in identifying professional development opportunities that are either free or of little cost to the district.

If and when bullying occurs, the bill requires all school staff to promptly report bullying to the principal when they witness or become aware of it.  A school principal or his designee must immediately investigate and take appropriate disciplinary action.  The bill requires school principals to notify local law enforcement of bullying incidents if there is reason to believe criminal charges may be pursued, with regulatory input from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Each school will be in charge of developing and implementing a plan of action that will meet several provisions outlined in the legislation.

The anti-bullying bill will go to the Senate and House for enactment Thursday and then to the Governor’s desk to be signed into law.

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