By Colleen Quinn
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
STATE HOUSE -- To identify trends in bullying, the Massachusetts House is expected on Wednesday to pass legislation that creates a statewide data reporting system.
Four years after passing an anti-bullying law, lawmakers believe a reporting mechanism on bullying incidents will allow policymakers and educators to better identity trends and allocate resources. Under the bill, which received initial House approval on Monday, the data would be culled by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education on an annual basis in a report submitted to the Legislature.
The bill (H 3909) also addresses students who are vulnerable to bullying and requires school districts to include a statement in their prevention plans recognizing certain categories of students as targets, particularly lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students. School districts would need to outline specific steps they will take to create safe environments for students from vulnerable populations.
"Each plan shall recognize that certain students may be more vulnerable to become targets of bullying, harassment, or teasing based on actual or perceived differentiating characteristics including race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, sex, socioeconomic status, homelessness, academic status, gender identity or expression, physical appearance, pregnant or parenting status, sexual orientation, or mental, physical, developmental, or sensory disability, or by association with a person who has or is perceived to have one or more of these characteristics," the bill states.
The legislation also calls on the department to conduct a student survey to assess the prevalence, nature and severity of bullying in schools, along with asking about the effectiveness of prevention efforts.
The legislation stems from recommendations drafted by a special commission established as part of the 2010 anti-bullying law. The bill was filed by Rep. Alice Peisch (D-Wellesley), Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz (D-Jamaica Plain), and Attorney General Martha Coakley.
"This bill makes two important updates to the landmark anti-bullying law in order to measure the effectiveness of our efforts and protect those who are especially vulnerable to bullying, including LGBT kids," Coakley said in a statement.
House Speaker Robert DeLeo said it will give educators and lawmakers a better sense of who is being bullied and how to prevent it.
"There are various categories that are now set forth where it is felt most of the bullying is taking place - you know in the gay community, race, physical appearance, and it sets up a mechanism for them to report to the Department of Education so we as a Commonwealth will have a better idea," DeLeo told the News Service on Monday.
The legislation emerged this week from the House Ways and Means Committee as a redraft of a bill endorsed last October by the Education Committee.
Andy Metzger contributed reporting.