May 2, 2014
The General Assembly passed a second round of amendments to the Anti-Bullying law, M.G.L. c. 71, sec. 37O on April 24, 2014. These amendments emphasize increased awareness for groups of students who are vulnerable as possible targets of bullying and the need to collect data regarding bullying incidents and school climate.
In response to concerns that certain groups are more vulnerable to bullying than others, the amendments require schools to expand their Bullying Prevention and Intervention Plans (BPIP) to:
Recognize that students are more vulnerable to bullying based upon actual or perceived differences related to race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, sex, socio-economic status, homelessness, academic status, gender identity or expression, physical appearance, pregnant or parenting status, sexual orientation, mental, physical, developmental or sensory disability or by associations with other people who may have one or more of these characteristics;
Include specific steps that the school will take to support vulnerable students and to provide all students with the skills, knowledge and strategies needed to prevent or respond to bullying or harassment; and
Procedures for collecting, maintaining and reporting bullying incident data.
With respect to data collection, the amendments require schools to collect data on, the number of reported allegations of bullying or retaliation, the number and nature of substantiated incidents, the number of students disciplined for engaging in bullying or retaliation, and any other information required by the department. The DESE is expected to provide the schools with the mechanism for collecting data, which it will aggregate and analyze and publish in an annual statewide report. Schools will also undertake a survey focused on school climate and bullying once every four years. The survey will be developed by the DESE for use by school districts, the results of which will be compared to the school-collected incident data.
In light of these amendments, schools are strongly encouraged to revisit their BPIPs in order to account for the new requirements. Student handbooks may also require certain revisions as well. As with any policy change, SCM recommends consultation with school counsel to ensure compliance with all laws and regulations.