[August 26, 2013] The Massachusetts Bullying Prevention Law, M.G.L. c. 71, sec. 37O, has been amended. The amendments, which are nominally effective July 1, 2013, expand the protections afforded to students to include bullying by school staff.
Specifically, the definition of “bullying” has been expanded to include “the repeated use by one or more students or by a member of a school staff including, but not limited to, an educator, administrator, school nurse, cafeteria worker, custodian, bus driver, athletic coach, advisor to an extracurricular activity or paraprofessional of a written, verbal or electronic expression or a physical act or gesture or any combination thereof, directed at a victim that: (i) causes physical or emotional harm to the victim or damage to the victim’s property; (ii) places the victim in reasonable fear of harm to himself or of damage to his property; (iii) 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. For the purposes of this section, bullying shall include cyber-bullying.”
Similarly, the definition of “perpetrator” has been amended to include “[a] student or a member of a school staff including, but not limited to, an educator, administrator, school nurse, cafeteria worker, custodian, bus driver, athletic coach, advisor to an extracurricular activity or paraprofessional who engages in bullying or retaliation.”
Finally, subsection (d) of the law, which refers to the requisite bullying prevention and intervention plan, has been revised as follows: “Each school district, charter school, non-public school, approved private day or residential school and collaborative school shall develop, adhere to and update a plan to address bullying prevention and intervention in consultation with teachers, school staff, professional support personnel, school volunteers, administrators, community representatives, local law enforcement agencies, students, parents and guardians. The plan shall apply to students and members of a school staff, including, but not limited to, educators, administrators, school nurses, cafeteria workers, custodians, bus drivers, athletic coaches, advisors to an extracurricular activity and paraprofessionals.”
In light of these amendments, we recommend that each school:
- Revise the anti-bullying policies in its student and employee handbooks to incorporate these new mandates, as well as to update the policies for recent best practices;
- Revise the bullying prevention and intervention plan on its website to incorporate these new mandates as well as to update the plan for recent best practices; and
- Provide educational sessions for employees regarding this significant change in the law.
Please do not hesitate to contact a member of the Firm’s Education Practice Group if you have any questions about the Massachusetts Bullying Prevention Law or its requirements.