States across the country are putting anti-bullying laws
in place, many in response to tragic circumstances
that resulted from excessive bullying within their schools. While some already have laws on the books that require schools to comply, others are continuing to fight the battle to transform anti-bullying from school policy to state law. Are laws against bullying essential, and will they effectively protect the victims? We'll take a look at some of the states grappling with this challenge to find out.
Laws in Place in Massachusetts
Last May, the governor of Massachusetts, Deval Patrick, signed a piece of anti-bullying legislation into law. The Massachusetts Bullying Prevention Law required all public schools to file anti-bullying plans with the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education by the end of last year, according to a report in the Holbrook Sun
. The schools' plans needed to include the following:
- Clear descriptions of what bullying looks like
- Statements prohibiting bullying in the schools
- Procedures for school staff to report incidents of bullying
- Guidelines to promptly respond to reports of bullying
- Guidelines to ensure the safety of victims
- Procedures to notify parents and guardians of the victim or perpetrator
- Guidelines to report incidents of bullying to law enforcement officials
- Provisions for anonymous reports
- Professional development to build awareness and skills for dealing with bullying
- Disciplinary actions for perpetrators of bullying
The plan should also have provisions for false reports of bullying, as well as strategies to protect those who report bullies to school authorities. These plans were supposed to be filed with the state by December 31, 2010, and at this time, 99% of the schools in the state have complied with the requirement. Some schools are also hosting parent nights on bullying prevention in order to involve all members of the school community in the anti-bullying guidelines issued by the schools.
According to a report at Boston.com
, only six schools have yet to file their anti-bullying plans with the state of Massachusetts. Two public schools, Gosnold Public School District on the Elizabeth Islands and the Massachusetts Academy of Math and Science in Worcester, have not yet responded about their failure to comply. The state is also waiting on one charter school
, the Martin Luther King Jr. Charter School
of Excellence in Springfield. The last three schools that have yet to file their plans are all private special education schools; Metro South Academy, Children's Study Home and Whitney Academy. While most private schools were exempt from the law, those that taught special education students
did have to file a plan.
Anti-Bullying Bills Introduced in Virginia
reports that two Virginia state legislators have introduced bills to make bullying a crime and better equip schools to handle specific incidents of bullying. Del. David Englin and Del. Adam Ebbin both believe that children need to feel safe at school if they are to get the most out of their academic experience. These two legislators have teamed up to deal with the bullying problem at the state level. The first bill, HB 1576, contains the following provisions:
- Make bullying a Class 1 misdemeanor
- Provide for school expulsions after bullying behavior
- Allow victims to sue bullies who are found guilty
- Requires bullying causing injury to be reported to the state
The second bill, HB 1575, includes the following:
- Add specific to codes of student conduct in regards to bullying, harassment and intimidation
- Require schools to adopt specific procedures to separate victims from bullies
- Require teachers to take bullying intervention as part of in-service training
- Require that incidents of bullying or harassment be reported to district superintendent
- Hold school administrators responsible for instituting anti-bullying policies and procedures
The bills have just recently been introduced and will need to go through the appropriate channels for approval.
Detroit Father Pushing for Legislation in Michigan
Michigan is another state that is struggling to adopt anti-bullying laws, despite the urging by one Detroit father who lost his son to bullying in 2002. Kevin Epling's son Matt committed suicide after being hazed and bullied by classmates. The introduced bill, known as Matt's Law, has been voted down by some members of the state legislature, but according to the Detroit Free Press
, the bill will be re-introduced in the next legislative session.
Anti-bullying laws are far from perfect, but they may be a school district's best chance to protect the victims of this unnecessary and often preventable offense. By giving states and schools clear guidelines in dealing with bullying behavior, perhaps many of the perpetrators of such acts will recognize there are consequences to their actions. At the same time, victims may feel safer going to school, which will raise the bar on our quality of public education overall.