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Anti-Bullying Legislation, Two Years Out

by Sue O’Connell

Bay Windows

Thursday May 3, 2012

Thursday, May 3, marks the second anniversary of the landmark, Massachusetts anti-bullying legislation. The law requires school districts to create bullying prevention plans and provide training on bullying prevention and intervention for all levels of school personnel.The law passed unanimously by state lawmakers in 2010 after the bullying-related deaths of two Massachusetts students.

Activists used the occasion to note the state's progress, and the challenges the remain in raising awareness and protecting LGBT youth.

"This bill is making a difference in our schools," said Kara Suffredini, Esq., executive director of MassEquality. "But it hasn't been enough. In Massachusetts, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender kids are four times more likely to skip school because of being fearful for their safety. This is unacceptable, and these kids-our kids-need to feel safer now."

Massachusetts Commission on GLBT Youth, created in 1992, has played a central role in addressing the vulnerability of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender students to bias-based bullying. According to a statement released by the Commission, they have worked to forward implementation of the anti-bullying legislations, including:

-issuing, in partnership with The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), Guidance on Notifying Parents When a Student Has Been Bullied Based on Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity/Expression. Released in January 2011, this policy is believed to be the only one of its kind in the nation.

-securing funding to support a consultant appointed by DESE to direct the Safe Schools Program for GLBT students and to provide professional development to school districts on bias-based bullying.

-establishing the State and Regional Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) Student Leadership Councils, student-led initiatives that focus on improving school climate and culture, and reinforcing anti-bullying efforts.

-reducing elevated risk of bullying for gender-nonconforming students by working closely with DESE to provide guidance, technical assistance, and training to school districts on implementation of the new state law requirements protecting public school students from discrimination based on gender identity.

MassEquality is urging the passage of House Bill 3584, sponsored by the Commission on Bullying Prevention. The bill would amend current law so that school district bullying prevention plans would be required to explicitly identify those groups of students who are more vulnerable to bullying, including students who are LGBT or perceived to be, and students whose parents are LGBT. The bill would also require that schools collect data about bullying, which could then be used to assess the efficacy of anti-bullying curricula. It would also continue the existence of the Commission on Bullying Prevention.

"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. This change to the state's anti-bullying law would set the stage for Massachusetts to catch up with thirteen other states whose anti-bullying laws explicitly protect LGBT youth in schools," Suffredini said. "These protections are necessary to ensure that harassment of LGBT students, and all students who are perceived as different, is not overlooked or disregarded."

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