Tuesday, November 17, 2009

MA: Support swells for anti-bully legislation

Students, teachers, and experts on aggression packed a State House hearing room today to talk about bullying at school and in cyberspace, and to weigh in on anti-bullying bills currently under consideration by the Legislature.

A female student who attended public school in Swampscott said she was taunted relentlessly by a boy to the point where she feared going to school. As a result of the bullying, the girl told the Education Committee, her grades and her relationships with other students suffered. The girl eventually left the district to attend another school.

"I was pushed out of the town I spent my whole life in. I found a school that I feel comfortable in, but I wonder if the school had reacted in an appropriate way, would I still be a student in Swampscott schools?" she said.

A male eighth-grader gave another perspective, from the standpoint of a reformed bully. "Last year, I was part of the problem. I was insensitive and I treated my peers without consideration,'' said the student, who attends the Rashi School in Newton.

"I used names and jokes to make him feel smaller..." the teen said of his victim. When the dean of students intervened and required the student to study the effects of bullying, the teen said he changed his taunting habits and became compassionate.

Anti-bullying bills have come before the Legislature in the past but have been defeated. Now, a broad group of supporters, led by the Anti-Defamation League, are giving the effort the momentum it may need to pass. Eleven bills are under consideration. The most popular one appears to be House Bill 843, which would implement a policy prohibiting bullying on school grounds and at school functions, and would require teachers and administrators to report cases of bullying, similar to the state's child abuse policy, the Globe reported on Sunday

Northeastern University Professor Jack Levin, a criminologist, testified before the committee that bullying, when left unchecked, can have tragic and violent consequences.

"Bullying should be a red flag," he said. "The Virginia Tech killer was bullied and harassed and no one offered a helping hand. The origins of the Virginia Tech massacre can be seen in the killer's life, long before he got to college."

The groundswell of support follows the bullying case this year of an 11-year-old boy, Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover, a student at a Springfield charter school whose classmates ridiculed him for how he dressed, saying he acted like a girl. He hanged himself with an electrical cord at his home in April, leaving behind a note in which he told his family that he loved them and gave his Pokemon games and cards to a 6-year-old brother.

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