Bay State activists applaud strengthened anti-bullying bill

by Peter Cassels
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Tuesday Mar 23, 2010

Activists say they are pleased with the strengthened bill targeting school bullying the Massachusetts House of Representatives approved last week, but remain disappointed it does not contain language specifically protecting LGBT students.

The House version of the bill, passed unanimously on Thursday, March 18, differs from the Senate bill legislators approved on Thursday, March 11.

The legislation now goes to a conference committee to resolve the discrepancies, and it is expected to go to Gov. Deval Patrick by early April. The governor has indicated he will sign it into law.

Advocates say the House version is better because it requires school staff to be trained on bullying prevention and report bullying incidents that occur in person or online to school principals.

Both versions of the legislation also require principals to notify parents of the bullies and their victims and report bullies to law enforcement officials if they believe the actions are criminal.

The bill strengthens a 1993 law meant to eliminate bullying and harassment in Bay State schools. The suicides of two students in western Massachusetts last year motivated lawmakers to act.

After the Senate version of the bill was approved, advocates told EDGE they were disappointed it did not contain what they called LGBT-specific enumerative language to cover sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. They remain pleased, however, with the resulting House version and vowed to work with the conference committee to assure it retains the strict training and reporting requirements.

"By passing this bill, the House of Representatives has sent a strong message that all school personnel must be proactive about protecting students from bullying," Scott Gortikov, executive director of MassEquality, said in a news release. "The reporting and training provisions are necessary if this legislation is to be effective in preventing bullying."

Dee Dee Edmondson, political director of MassEquality, had earlier told EDGE the law could be revisited in the future to include enumerative language.

"One thing I do want to stress is that we will always be vigilant in the protection of gay and gay-perceived students and children," Edmondson said. "That's something we will never waver from."

EDGE asked state Sen. Richard Tisei, the openly gay Republican minority leader and candidate for lieutenant governor this year, to comment on the legislation.

"The anti-bullying bills that have passed the House and Senate are not perfect, but they represent a huge leap forward in addressing this serious problem," Tisei said. "Hopefully, the final bill that reaches the Governor's desk will merge the best provisions of the House and Senate proposals into a strong anti-bullying measure that we can continue to build on in the future to ensure the protection of all students."

Tisei added he was particularly pleased the legislation also targets bullying that's not done in person.

"Unfortunately, our current laws have not kept up with the advances in technology, and bullies have been able to exploit those loopholes by using text messages, Facebook and new forms of communication to continue to victimize others, both on and off school grounds," he said.

Peter Cassels is a recipient of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association’s Excellence in Journalism award. His e-mail address is


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