It has been just over a year since Governor Patrick signed the Massachusetts law on bullying into effect, and now that the 2010-11 school year is coming to an end, it is appropriate timing to discuss what I believe to be a major issue with the law. The law was enacted to set guidelines for schools to follow to ensure that all students were protected from bullying. With this, the burden was placed on schools to act quickly in investigating the incident and punishing the aggressor. However, all too often schools rushed through the investigation or skipped over it completely and went straight to punishing the alleged bully.
We received a lot of calls this year from victims of bullying– too many to count– but we also received calls from parents whose child was wrongly accused of being the bully and were looking to the law for some sort of protection for their child. One of the recurring issues we saw was the fact that the word “bully” was overused by school staff, students, and parents. In some instances, any action at all was considered bullying and the student was automatically labeled as a bully. I am a firm believer in protecting the victim, but at the same time, there are students out there who are mislabeled and need protection as well.
Schools now have procedures that they must follow, and if done correctly, they protect the victim and punish the aggressor. However, as we have seen this past year, that does not always happen. There are options for both the victim and the aggressor in these types of situations. It is important to know that while the law was created to protect the victims, it can also be used to protect the students who are unfairly labeled as well.