For Immediate Release - May 30, 2013

AG Coakley Testifies in Support of Legislation to Build Upon Anti-Bullying Law

Urges Passage of Bill Establishing Data Collection and Enhanced Protections for Students Vulnerable to Bullying

BOSTON – Legislation that will build upon the strong foundation of the existing anti-bullying law is essential to address the continued challenge of bullying in schools, Attorney General Martha Coakley testified today before the Joint Committee on Education.

The Commonwealth’s landmark anti-bullying law – signed by Governor Deval Patrick on May 3, 2010 – established a Commission, chaired by the AG’s Office, to review the General Laws and advanced several key legislative recommendations. The bill, An Act Relative to Bullying in Schools, is based on the Commission’s recommendations, along with several changes suggested by the Joint Committee on Education last session. Today, AG Coakley testified in support of the bill, as a part of her current legislative priorities, which would provide educators and policy makers with data to guide anti-bullying policies, and provide enhanced protections to students that are especially vulnerable to bullying.

Specifically, the bill authorizes the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) to use existing data collection mechanisms to annually gather bullying incident data. The bill would also direct DESE to develop a student survey to be administered by schools every three years that would evaluate the prevalence and severity of bullying in schools from students’ perspective.

“Building upon our landmark anti-bullying law is essential to further confront bullying and support the good work already being done in our schools every day,” AG Coakley said. “I applaud the Legislature for its ongoing efforts to provide a safe school environment for all our children – a goal shared by school superintendents, principals, and teachers, as well as parents, community members and local and state law enforcement agencies across the Commonwealth. I urge the Committee to report the bill out favorably.”

“The passage of the anti-bullying law three years ago marked an important step towards creating safer schools across the Commonwealth,” said Representative Alice Peisch, House Chair of the Joint Committee on Education. “Looking ahead, we must continue our efforts to address the challenges that students, parents, teachers and administrators face in confronting bullying in schools.”

“It has been three years since Governor Patrick signed the current anti-bullying law, and we now know that there’s more to be done to ensure the safety and equality of youth in our schools,” MassEquality Executive Director Kara Suffredini said. “MassEquality supports An Act Relative to Bullying in Schools (HB 454, SB 206), which will provide vital data on the effectiveness of the existing law and ensure that bullying protections reach the groups of students most vulnerable to bullying – including LGBTQ youth and children of LGBTQ parents. We thank the Attorney General for her continued efforts to protect all young people in our schools from bullying.”

In 2011, the Commission heard testimony concerning the fact that certain students are more vulnerable to becoming targets of bullying – particularly students that are, or are perceived to be, lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender, as well as students with disabilities. Consequently, the bill also requires schools to include an explicit statement in their bullying prevention plans recognizing that certain enumerated categories of students are especially vulnerable to bullying, and outline specific steps they will take to create a safe, supportive environment for these vulnerable populations.

Following her work as chair of the Commission on Bullying Prevention, AG Coakley also created the Massachusetts School Safety Alliance (MSSA), part of an ongoing effort to bring together educators from across the Commonwealth and facilitate a dialogue on bullying prevention efforts statewide. MSSA issued its first e-newsletter in May.

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