On May 2, 2010, Governor Deval Patrick signed the Massachusetts Anti-Bullying Law, one of the most comprehensive anti-bullying laws in the country. In order to fully understand the many components of the law, several teachers, administrators, and our School Resource Officer, attended workshops and meetings over the summer. During the first part of this school year, we will be educating the parents, staff, students, and the community on the components of the law.
The key components of the law are as follows:
- Creates a clear definition of bullying as follows:
“The repeated use by one or more people of a written, verbal, or electronic expression or a physical act or gesture or any combination thereof, directed at a target that:
a) Causes physical or emotional harm to the target or damage to the target’s property;
b) Places the target in reasonable fear of harm to himself or herself or of damage to his or her property;
c) Creates a hostile environment at school for the target;
d) Infringes on the rights of the target at school; or
e) Materially and substantially disrupts the education process or the orderly operation of a school” (Chapter 92 of the Acts of 2010).
- Includes a definition for cyberbullying, as well as, gives greater authority to school districts when cyberbullying incidents occur off campus.
- Expands the school district’s obligations in monitoring, reporting, and investigating all bullying incidents.
- Requires that staff report any case of bullying immediately to a building administrator.
- Requires annual training for all staff, including teachers, paraeducators, administrators, nurses, cafeteria workers, custodians, bus drivers, athletic coaches, advisors to extra-curricular activities, secretaries, and other support staff.
- Requires an anti-bullying curriculum for all students.
- Requires opportunities for parents to receive training.
- Identifies the process of notifying law enforcement when criminal charges may be appropriate.
The most important addition to the law is the development and implementation of a district anti-bullying plan, which includes several of the above components. The school district is currently developing this plan and will be asking for community feedback on the plan beginning November 1st. The plan is due to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education by December 31, 2010.
In addition, the Reading School Committee is currently reviewing a revised version of policy ACAB/ACAC, which is our school district’s Harassment, Bullying, Discrimination, and Hazing Policy. A draft of this policy is found on Edline. The final draft of the policy will be voted on at the September 13th School Committee Meeting.
This law is well-intentioned, but it will not stop bullying in the Reading Public Schools or any other school district in this Commonwealth. It is just one piece of the puzzle. In a recent New York Times article on this issue, Susan Engel and Marlene Sandstrom write,”…for laws like the one in Massachusetts to succeed, they have to be matched by an educational system that teaches children not only what’s wrong, but how to do what’s right.” What will work is our school community working together to create a culture where students will respect each other’s differences, where bystanders will speak up when someone is targeted by an aggressor, and where aggressors realize they cannot pick on their peers or other targets. Over the next several months your input will be critical as we put together an anti-bullying plan that is in the best interest of the Reading Public Schools and doesn’t just fulfill the law. Our plan will focus on creating a supportive and respectful culture that is free of intimidation and where both students and staff feel safe and welcome.
Over the next several weeks, I will be updating you more about the law and the progress that we are making in our draft anti-bullying plan through this blog and other venues. We welcome your input as we address this critical issue together.