The governor of Massachusetts signed a bill greatly strengthening the state’s anti-bullying laws on April 24.
H. 3909, called “An Act Relative to Bullying in Schools,” includes stronger, specific protections for LGBT students, as well as those with disabilities. It requires the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) to collect data on bullying from each school, analyze it, and release annual reports revealing the nature and frequency of occurrences. They must also develop a survey to be administered to students every four years to evaluate the atmosphere within each school and determine what can be done to improve.
Governor Deval Patrick’s official website reported that he said, “This legislation is an important step toward ensuring that all young people are able to learn and thrive in our Commonwealth’s schools. With this new law, we are continuing our dedication to our teachers, parents and kids to give them the tools and protections they need so that every student has a chance to reach their full potential.”
According to the full text of the bill, it applies to every “school district, charter school, non-public school, approved private day or residential school and collaborative school,” and dictates that “Each plan shall recognize that certain students may be more vulnerable to become targets of bullying, harassment, or teasing based on actual or perceived differentiating characteristics, including race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, sex, socioeconomic status, homelessness, academic status, gender identity or expression, physical appearance, pregnant or parenting status, sexual orientation, or mental, physical, developmental, or sensory disability, or by association with a person who has or is perceived to have one or more of these characteristics.”
H. 3909 was sponsored by Representative Alice Peisch and Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz, and passed the Legislature with strong bipartisan support. It builds on the landmark anti-bullying legislation signed by Governor Patrick in 2010.
Representative Lori Ehrlich said, “After the Legislature passed the original landmark anti-bullying bill, of which I was a proud sponsor, my office received a call from a tearful 10-year-old boy who was so incredibly thankful that we passed a bill that could prevent other kids from having to go through the bullying he endured at school.
“It’s for him and others like him that we continue to work to give schools the tools they need to address bullying. I appreciate the leadership of Governor Patrick and the bipartisan efforts of the Legislature toward making our schools safer and more supportive places for every student.”