The law defines bullying as unwelcome and repeated “written, verbal, or electronic expression or a physical act or gesture or any combination thereof, directed at a victim that (1) causes physical or emotional harm to the victim or damage to the victim’s property, (2) places the victim in reasonable fear of harm to himself or of damage to his property; (3) creates a hostile environment at school for the victim; (iv) infringes on the rights of the victim at school; or (v) materially and substantially disrupts the education process or the orderly operation of a school.”
In addition, bullying includes cyber-bullying, which is defined as “bullying through the use of technology or any electronic communication, which shall include, but shall not be limited to, any transfer of signs, signals, writing, images, sounds, data or intelligence of any nature transmitted in whole or in part by a wire, radio, electromagnetic, photo electronic or photo optical system, including, but not limited to, electronic mail, internet communications, instant messages or facsimile communications. Cyber-bullying shall also include (i) the creation of a web page or blog in which the creator assumes the identity of another person or (ii) the knowing impersonation of another person as the author of posted content or messages, if the creation or impersonation creates any of the conditions enumerated in clauses (i) to (v), inclusive, of the definition of bullying.”
The law requires all school districts in Massachusetts to adopt and implement a bullying prevention and intervention plan in their schools by December 31, 2010. Shortly after the law was passed, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education provided a model plan for all school districts statewide to use as a guideline and serve as a resource to schools. School districts, with input from teachers, school staff, professional support personnel, volunteers, administrators, students, parents, guardians, law enforcement, and community representatives, must create a plan to be implemented in each respective school.
The law places great emphasis on the schools’ role in responding to bullying by requiring all school districts to formulate and implement a prevention plan. At a minimum, every plan shall include (i) definitions of bullying, cyber-bullying and retaliation and statements prohibiting each; (ii) clear reporting procedures for students, staff, parents, guardians and others; (iii) a provision that allows anonymous reports as long as no disciplinary action is taken solely on the anonymous report; (iv) prompt investigation of all reports of bullying or retaliation; (v) possible disciplinary actions for the perpetrator as long as the disciplinary actions “balance the need for accountability with the need to teach appropriate behavior;” (vi) clear procedures to restore the victim’s safety and need for protection; (vii) ways to protect a person who reports bullying, provides information for an investigation or provides reliable information about an act of bullying; (vii) procedures for promptly notifying (1) the parents or guardians of a victim of the act as well as the action taken to prevent further acts as long as the notification is consistent with state and federal law and (2) the law enforcement agency if criminal charges may be pursued against the perpetrator; (ix) a provision that a student who intentionally makes a false allegation of bullying or retaliation shall be subject to disciplinary action; and (x) a strategy that provides counseling or appropriate services for perpetrators, victims, and their family members. In order to ensure the prevention plan is successfully implemented in each school, a school official must be designated by the superintendent and school principal to oversee the plan.