As another attempt to prevent bullying in schools, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick signed a bill that will strengthen protections for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students.
The bill, called An Act Relative to Bullying in Schools, requires school districts, charter schools and approved private and residential schools to develop specific anti-bullying programs, ensuring their schools remain safe places for learning. The bill, signed on Thursday, also outlines procedures for collecting, maintaining and reporting bullying incidents.
“This legislation is an important step toward ensuring that all young people are able to learn and thrive in our Commonwealth’s schools,” Patrick said in the Thursday release. “With this new law, we are continuing our dedication to our teachers, parents and kids to give them the tools and protections they need so that every student has a chance to reach their full potential.”
All the bullying data collected due to the implementation of the bill will be submitted to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education for annual publishing.
The first anti-bullying legislation, passed in 2010, created a special commission to determine if the laws required amendments to address bullying and cyber-bullying, according to the commission’s report presented in 2011. The recommendations made by the commission, presided by Massachusetts Attorney Gen. Martha Coakley, constitute the substance of the new anti-bullying bill.
“This new law is the next step on our path to protect children from bullying,” said Coakley in the Thursday release. “It will better protect students who we know are most vulnerable to bullying, including our LGBTQ students and those with disabilities. It will also allow us to better track the effectiveness of our bullying programs across the Commonwealth.”
The commission’s report was presented in 2011 and due to increased support in this legislative session the bill has been passed.
“This legislation provides additional tools and resources that will allow the Commonwealth to continue its efforts to prevent bullying in schools, and will provide an opportunity for the state to measure the impact and effectiveness of the 2010 law,” said Massachusetts Rep. Alice Peisch in the release, House Chair of the Joint Committee on Education and sponsor of the new bill.
With the new data collection requirement, Massachusetts expects to measure the impact of the legislation implemented, which could not be done with the original bill. Schools are now also required to increase parent involvement.
“DESE will develop a survey to be administered to students every four years to assess overall school climates and the prevalence, nature and severity of bullying to better determine measures needed to prevent it,” the release stated.
Many residents were pleased to hear bullying is remaining a priority for officials at a time where cyber-bullying is becoming more of a problem each day.
Sam Fox, 42, of Boston, said the parental involvement aspect of the act is vital because parents are an essential part in preventing bullying.
“It starts with parents,” she said. “If the parents and their children do not have really good communications, they can’t really know what is going on. If children do not have a very secure home life with the parents, they could cause problems.”
Katherine Carter, 37, of Allston, said focusing on minority students and students with disabilities is useful because bullying that arises from prejudice is much more harmful.
“The kid that pushes another kid for a ball is not necessarily because of race or sexual orientation and might not be as repetitive,” she said. “The kid that constantly harasses another because of how they look or their sexual orientation, that kid definitely needs to be stopped as soon as possible.”
Gene Bauer, 62, of Back Bay, said the continual data and reports would help to keep the bullying issue up-to-date and the policies regarding it evolving.
“There has always been bullying in our schools, but it’s gotten much more severe,” she said. “Hopefully if they are continually surveying students and keeping track of what’s changing bullying-wise, then the policies regarding it will continue to be helpful since they will stay up-to-date with the nature of the issue.”