Bullying Commission Recommends Annual Reporting Mechanism to Improve Bullying Prevention Efforts in the Commonwealth
The Commission to Review Statutes Relative to Implementation of the School Bullying Law (The Commission), Chaired by Attorney General Martha Coakley, was charged with reviewing the Massachusetts General Laws to consider whether any laws needed to be amended or created in order to more effectively address bullying and cyber-bullying. The Commission held public hearings in Boston and Springfield, and gathered testimony from more than 50 people including educators, parents, civil rights advocates, law enforcement, and bullying prevention experts. It submitted its full findings in a report today to the Legislature.
"Preventing bullying and cyber-bullying continue to be one of the most significant challenges our schools face to protect our kids and create a positive learning environment," said AG Coakley. "The anti-bullying law passed last year was a significant step forward in our efforts to better protect our children and create a positive learning environment. The Commission believes that the next important step is to begin collecting data to track instances of bullying and then use that data to improve our schools' prevention efforts."
The Committee today submitted seven total recommendations to the Legislature, including the implementation of annual reporting. During the testimony, numerous participants called for such a state-wide reporting mechanism in order to collect data from school districts regarding incidents of bullying that can be used to measure the efficacy of the Act and continue to make improvements to the law.
The full recommendations made by the Commission , based on testimony at the hearings and additional deliberations by Commission members, were:
- The Legislature should establish a mechanism for annually reporting data regarding bullying to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education;
- The Legislature should require that schools make explicit in school anti-bullying plans that certain enumerated categories of students are particularly vulnerable to bullying and harassment;
- The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education should continue to emphasize and publicize the Department's problem resolution system;
- The Legislature should consider additional funding sources for training initiatives and for DESE's work;
- Schools and school districts must work to foster parental involvement to stop bullying and resolve incidents of bullying;
- No new or additional criminal laws are necessary at this time;
- The Legislature may wish to extend the term of this Commission for two years.
On May 3, 2010, Governor Deval Patrick signed into law a landmark anti-bullying bill for Massachusetts. Provisions of this new law include requirements for schools to create and implement bullying prevention plans and curricula. The bullying prevention law also updated several criminal statutes to address certain cyber-bullying conduct that may rise to the level of criminal behavior. It also directed the Attorney General's Office to work with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and other agencies to develop a model bullying prevention plan and to identify the resources needed to create a school climate in which every student feels safe - in and out of school.
The law also gave responsibility to the Attorney General's Office to chair a Commission comprised of stakeholders from the law enforcement and education communities. According to the statute, the Commission was charged with "the review of the General Laws to determine if they need to be amended in order to address bullying and cyber-bullying and to investigate parental responsibility and liability for bullying and cyber-bullying." The law also requires the Commission to "report to the general court the results of its investigation and study and its recommendations, if any, together with drafts of legislation necessary to carry out such recommendations on or before June 30, 2011."
The Commission has been meeting bi-monthly since June 2010.
The members of the Commission on Bullying Prevention are:
Martha Coakley, Chair, Massachusetts Attorney General
Michael Bellotti, Sheriff, Massachusetts Sheriffs' Association
David Capeless, Berkshire County District Attorney
Steve Clem, Executive Director, Association of Independent Schools in New England
Michael Long, General Counsel, Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents
Mary Lyons, Police Chief, Mattapoisett, MA Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association
Laura Salomons, School Committee Member, Sharon, MA, Massachusetts Association of School Committees
STATEMENTS OF SUPPORT FROM MEMBERS OF THE BULLYING COMMISSION:
Sheriff Michael Bellotti, Massachusetts Sheriffs' Association
"This report recommends additional tools and resources that will allow the Commission, as well as parents, educators and law enforcement statewide, to continue to work together to prevent acts of bullying. Additionally, it will allow all those parties to monitor compliance with the Bullying Prevention Law and to intervene early so that all children can feel safe from bullying in and out of school."
Berkshire District Attorney Dave Capeless, Massachusetts District Attorneys' Association
"The work of the Commission was greatly aided by the informative and insightful testimony of those who appeared at our public hearings, and we are grateful for their input. One major lesson that the Commission learned from that testimony was that ensuring a major cultural shift - away from, at best, a passive acceptance of bullying and towards real tolerance and empathy among our young people - will require more than legislative action or institutional guidelines. All of us adults, not just parents, will need to set an example that our children will want to follow, and we will need to support our schools in reinforcing values that go beyond the three R's and MCAS standards. It is not an easy goal, but it is one that we can attain."
Mr. Steve Clem, Association of Independent Schools in New England
"Serving on the Commission has greatly enhanced my understanding of bullying and bullying prevention and enabled me to better serve our schools. I've come to see that bullying is a nexus for many of the social, emotional, behavioral and health challenges that students have to face."
Michael Long, Esq., MA Assoc. of School Superintendents
"The primary responsibility of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents is the advancement of educational opportunities for children. The work done by M.A.S.S. members and the Attorney General's Bullying Commission over the past several months will protect vulnerable student populations and expand their opportunities to fully access public education. In partnership with parents and law enforcement, schools have already become vigilant and have instructed staff and students on the harmful effects of bullying. We recommend that the Bullying Commission continue to monitor the issue over the next two years to insure that the provisions of Section 37O are fully implemented."
Mary Lyons, Police Chief, Mattapoisett, Massachusetts Chief of Police Association
"I am pleased that I had to opportunity to represent the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police working on the Bullying Commission. The members of the Attorney General's office who worked with the Commission members to develop the Bullying Commission Report did an outstanding job. The Bullying Commission listened to several organizations representing various diversity groups and heard their concerns regarding the impact bullying has on students. The continued work of the Bullying Commission is very important to ensure that appropriate curriculum is implemented in all schools to educate students regarding bullying behavior and to learn reasonable solutions to use when confronted by a bully. All students have a right to feel comfortable and safe in the school environment. I am hopeful that the new reporting system and data collection will provide an accurate representation of bullying in our schools. Based on the data, where necessary, appropriate programs are implemented to help prevent bullying."
Ms. Laura Salomons, Member, Sharon School Committee, Massachusetts Association of School Committees
"The Commission is just one way in which the state, law enforcement, and the schools can listen to the community and work collaboratively to address bullying. Hopefully this model can be replicated in communities across the Commonwealth."
STATEMENTS OF SUPPORT FOR BULLYING COMMISSION REPORT:
Senate President Therese Murray (D-Plymouth)
"The Attorney General always takes the safety of our children seriously, and it is clear that extensive thought and hard work went into this report on bullying," Senate President Therese Murray (D-Plymouth) said. "The special commission, led by the Attorney General and created under last year's anti-bullying law, makes important recommendations for the collection and use of data to track bullying incidents in our schools and help prevent them in the future. I look forward to reviewing all the recommendations in the report to determine the best ways to help schools, teachers and parents better address the damaging effects of bullying."
House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo (D-Winthrop)
"Last year, I was proud to join my colleagues in passing landmark anti-bullying legislation to protect our students from bullying both during the school day and after school hours," House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo said. "The work of this Commission and the release of this report continues the thoughtful, bold work of Massachusetts educators and policy makers to help secure our children from the terror of bullying and cyber-bullying. I applaud the Attorney General and all the Commission participants for their hard work and timely filing of this report. I look forward to having their contribution inform the ongoing work of the Education Committee and all agencies of state government trusted with the education, safety, and welfare of our children."
State Auditor Suzanne Bump
"I thank the Commission for listening to my testimony during its hearings and adopting my recommendation for the collection of hard data," said State Auditor Suzanne M. Bump. "It will enable us to track the effectiveness of any remedies put in place to protect our students."
State Representative Martha M. Walz (D-Boston)
"The Commission's work is both thorough and thoughtful. As the chief author of the anti-bullying law, I'm pleased by how well schools are implementing it so far, and I look forward to working with the Commission to strengthen the law to make it even more successful," said Representative Martha M. Walz (D-Boston).
State Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz (D-Boston)
"Last year, the legislature took the pioneering step of passing anti-bullying legislation. This report is a symbol of our state's continuing dedication to protecting vulnerable young people. I'm hopeful that we can keep working together across the different branches of government to ensure our schools are welcoming to everyone."
State Representative Alice Peisch (D-Wellesley)
"This report exemplifies the type of continued commitment that is essential to ensuring that the bullying prevention law is successfully implemented," said Representative Alice Peisch, House Chair of the Education Committee. "I am grateful for the hard work and dedication demonstrated by the members of the Commission in crafting this report, and I look forward to working with the Attorney General's Office and my colleagues in the legislature to implement policies that will strengthen the current law and improve bullying prevention efforts throughout the Commonwealth."
Karen Loewy, Senior Staff Attorney for Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders
"GLAD is gratified by the Commission's recommendation that the legislature require schools to enumerate the groups of students that are most at risk for bullying and harassment, including LGBT youth, in their anti-bullying policies," said Karen Loewy, Senior Staff Attorney for Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders. "Enumeration guides schools in how they educate teachers and students about bullying, and studies show that it works to reduce bullying. Explicitly recognizing these most vulnerable youth in the schools' policies puts everyone in the school community on notice of the challenges these particular students face and reduces bullying based on these types of identifying characteristics. We hope the legislature adopts this recommendation to ensure that all students can learn in a safe and supportive environment."
Derrek Shulman, ADL New England Regional Director
"Once implemented, these recommendations will further strengthen the antibullying law in Massachusetts by creating safer learning environments free of bullying," said Derrek L. Shulman, Regional Director of the Anti-Defamation League New England. "We are especially pleased with the recommendation to enhance reporting requirements to ensure greater accountability."
Kara Suffredini, Esq., Executive Director of MassEquality
"We are pleased with Attorney General Martha Coakley's leadership of the Commission and its recommendation today to the state legislature that it amend the Commonwealth's anti-bullying law to write in explicit protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth in our schools. As we noted in our testimony before the Commission, it is well documented that LGBT students, or those who are perceived to be LGBT by their peers, and those who have LGBT parents, are frequently the targets of bullying in schools. The recommendations today set the stage for Massachusetts to finally catch up to at least a dozen other states whose anti-bullying laws already have explicit protections for LGBT youth in schools. These protections are necessary to ensure that harassment of LGBT students is not overlooked or disregarded, as anti-LGBT activity historically has been. We applaud Attorney General Coakley and other members of the Commission for their close and careful attention to the issue of bullying in our schools, and the critical need to keep our youth safe."