“This is a problem that has existed ever since we’ve invented children,” according to Attorney Sam Goldberg. And it’s one that was addressed this month at the Statehouse when the governor signed an anti-bullying bill into law.
Some of the highlights of the new law include: mandatory anti-bullying instruction to be incorporated into school curriculums, schools must update their bullying prevention and intervention plan twice a year. Staff is required to report any bullying to the principal, who must investigate the issue and contact police if they believe a crime is committed. Parents of both the victim and the alleged bullies must be notified.
When asked if he thought teachers, principals, and superintendents across Massachusetts were under a microscope right now, Natick Superintendent Peter Sanchioni says absolutely, and that he is putting in some long hours to stay on top of a problem that has dominated the headlines.
“We’ve got to amend policies, we have to have reporting procedures, we’ve got to put principals in responsibility, we’ve got to report it to the law when we deem necessary,” Sanchioni said.
All of these sudden changes, to address a problem that’s been around forever, in varying degrees, from the more common harassment, to the more severe form, such as what allegedly took place in South Hadley. But many people, especially those in the legal community, say not so fast.
“What we’ve seen as sort of normal behavior for kids over the years, now becomes criminal and it’s a dangerous situation,” Goldberg says.
While he agrees bullying has no place in our society, Attorney Sam Goldberg says even a bully’s First Amendment right, the right to free speech, must be protected, and taken into consideration.
“There’s been several cases that normally it would be a blip on the radar, the school would take care of it, hopefully contact the parents, but now the school’s afraid to just take care of it in house. If there’s any possibility of getting the police involved, I’m finding they do that,” Goldberg says.
“We need to make sure that schools exercise common sense,” says Robert Trestan of the Anti-Defamation League, who has long been pushing for a bullying bill. While he believes legislation was necessary, it shouldn’t be used in every case.
“There are of course going to be degrees to which bullying occurs in schools, and the last thing that we want is for a one-time disagreement on a playground to result in a police report,” Trestan says.
Even proponents differ on how to implement the new legislation. Trestan believes it should simply be a part of everyday learning, “that means that when they go to school and they learn English, Math, and History, they need to learn about bullying as well. It needs to be integrated into the curriculum of schools.”
“I’m not sure it needs to go to that extent. I think there’s an opportunity here to teach students and give them the opportunity to understand it,” Peter Sanchioni said.
Going forward, schools are armed more than ever in the fight against bullying. The question is, will the new law be a success?