House passes updated anti-bullying bill

Working to update the current bullying laws in Massachusetts, the State House of Representatives voted in favor of an anti-bullying bill that would set requirements for tracking and reporting cases of bullying in schools throughout Massachusetts.

The law passed in 2010 required schools to teach kids about the impact of bullying. It led to the establishment of various anti-bullying programs in schools across the Commonwealth, said Robert Trestan, Anti-Defamation League regional director.

Many of the provisions added into the new bill were discussed in 2010, but there was not a consensus to include them in the law at the time. The two new additions to the legislation will specifically protect LGBTQ students from bullying in Massachusetts schools, Trestan said.

“[Bullying] can impact anyone from the day that they may be the target of bullying, and that can carry through their entire life,” he said. “It is critical that we teach kids about the impact of their actions. At one point bullying was almost seen as a right of passage … [but] causing people to commit suicide is not a right of passage.”

Michael Givens, communications manager for MassEquality, said the new bill would ensure that students are able to go to school and participate actively in an environment that is free from bullying or harassment.

“Bullying interferes with the ability of students to participate fully in the educational process,” he said. “Students may lose interest in school, have trouble concentrating or do poorly academically. They may experience depression, low self-esteem and suicidal thoughts. We are hopeful that this law will greatly increase our ability to identify interventions that are successful in curbing bullying.”

Filed by Massachusetts Attorney Gen. Martha Coakley, Massachusetts Rep. Alice Peisch and  Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz and supported by House Speaker Robert DeLeo, the H-3909 bill passed in the House Wednesday by a 143-4 vote.

“I am proud to join my colleagues in strengthening our anti-bullying laws,” DeLeo said in a Wednesday press release. “We are fortunate to have an exceptional educational system in Massachusetts, and it is our duty to ensure students are safe and are able to maximize these resources to the full extent. I believe this legislation will allow us to better understand and prevent bullying.”

If passed by the Senate, the bill will enhance the bullying prevention law approved in 2010 by establishing a data-reporting system to be used statewide. The bill also requires that measures be taken to provide certain vulnerable populations with a supportive environment, stated the release.

“This legislation builds on the 2010 anti-bullying law by providing additional tools and resources to support bullying prevention efforts in schools across the Commonwealth,” Peisch said. “[It] will provide an opportunity for the state to measure the effectiveness of these efforts and the impact 2010 law.”

Jennie Williamson, the education committee research director for Peisch, said the new bill strengthens the old bill with new issues that were not included in the 2010 bill at the time of its passage.

“The bill is reflection of recommendations that have been made after a year of investigation and testimony received on ways to update the law and strengthen it,” she said. “We decided to move forward with it.”

Several residents said this bill is only the first step, and they hope to see more measures taken by the legislature and the schools districts to tackling bullying across the state.

Doug Fowler, 45, of the South End, said the improvements in the 2010 anti-bullying law will create a school atmosphere that protects all students, rather than some.

“I’m sure there are certain people who are most picked on,” he said. “We need to think about them in particular.”

Phil Schneider, 29, of the South End, said bullying affects students on a regular basis, and this new bill will be working to tackle a huge problem in school districts.

“Having worked in schools, it is particularly tough because students don’t feel that they can be comfortable,” he said. “Bullying presents a serious challenge for students.”

Carrie Siracuse, 34, of the Seaport District, said she would hate to see her daughter, who is currently one year old, be discriminated against.

“Bullying was so prevalent, especially when I was growing up,” she said. “I’m glad to see that there is such a big anti-bullying movement.”

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