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Bullying is Prohibited! It Seems Simple, So Why is There Such a Problem in Schools?

MGL c. 71 § 37O is the Mass law that tells us what's prohibited and gives directives to schools. Each school district must have a plan implemented for bullying prevention, reporting, investigating, and more.


There are very specific definitions that parents and guardians should be aware of. First, if you feel that your child is a victim of bullying at school or on school grounds, then being a victim is defined as "a student against whom bullying or retaliation has been perpetrated."


A perpetrator can be one or more students, a staff member, teacher, administrator, school nurse, cafeteria worker, custodian, bus driver, coach, advisor to an extracurricular activity or paraprofessional.


The act of bullying is the repeated use 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; (ii) places the victim in reasonable fear of harm to himself or of damage to his property; (iii) creates a hostile environment for the victim; (iv) infringes on the rights of the victim; or (v) materially and substantially disrupts the education process or the orderly operation of a school.


Cyber-bullying is bullying. Often times, students are on group chats, school google chatrooms, and/or social media. If they include one or more students from school and target a student with the electronic expression described above, then cyber-bullying can be just as devastating as in-person bullying. Students take screenshots of partial threads to victimize and further isolate their peers. As adults, we see how easy it is to express ourselves freely on social media without having to communicate face-to-face. Children and teens can be particularly hurtful and they believe that social media will shield them from consequences.


Students feel they have "shields" in school as well. They subtly make violent gestures to others in the hallways where adults may miss it. There are threats and sometimes physical attacks that can take place in bathrooms and stairwells. Often, bullying occurs on the bus.


Under Mass General Law, school districts are required to have a Bullying Prevention Plan and to make it available to students and families. To see your district's plan, go to your school or district's website and search for "Bullying Prevention and Intervention Plan." I have found Plans under the following drop down menus: Families, Forms, and Support Services. Sometimes I've had to have to use the search engine. The main things you want to look for in the Bullying Prevention and Intervention Plan are:


  • The school's and/or district's policies and procedures for reporting and responding to bullying (and retaliation)

Most districts say that reports of bullying or retaliation can be made by staff, students, parents or guardians, or others, and may be verbal or written. If bullying has been ongoing and no staff members have reported it to the administration then raise that as a concern. Has your child told a counselor? Then why hasn't it been investigated yet? Make your reports in writing so there is a paper trail.

  • The training and professional development provided by the district

If problems persist, inquire whether all staff are receiving the training, whether the training is - at least - annual, and how long the training is. This information can be included in a PRS complaint and one remedy can be to increase training and professional development in anti-bullying.

  • Anti-bullying education for students

If problems persist, inquire whether all students are receiving this education, how they're receiving this education, and what exactly the education consists of. This information can be included in a PRS complaint and one remedy can be to increase anti-bullying awareness for students.

  • Addressing the needs of students with disabilities who may be vulnerable to bullying, harassment, and teasing

During team meetings where IEPs are developed for students with disabilities, it is necessary to determine whether a student may be vulnerable to bullying, harassment, and teasing, and whether specially designed instruction or skill building should be in place to accommodate that student's unique needs and vulnerabilities

  • Reporting bullying or retaliation

Somewhere near the Policies and Procedures Plan on the website you should find an Incident Report that you can complete and send to the school. It should say who to send it to. Some are submitted online and some can be printed out and sent. You can do this anonymously or you can sign it. It's best to report bullying incidents in writing and best to report each and every incident in as much detail as possible as soon as possible so you can remember everything. If a student pulled your child's hoodie in the hallway on one occasion, what day and time did it occur? What color was your child's hoodie and what was the other student wearing? What classroom did this occur in front of? Including these details will be helpful if there is a video that can be watched and your allegations corroborated.


Reporting incidents of bullying can be done verbally, but should be done in writing to have a paper trail, and the investigation and determination should be swift. Serious cases of bullying may result in criminal charges. Filing of false reports may result in consequences for the student and family.


Families often want to know the outcome of an investigation and what disciplinary action the school may have taken against a student. While outcomes of investigations shall be reported to those who filed bullying reports, the disciplinary actions taken against other students are covered under the privacy laws and the school may not disclose that information. Any disciplinary action taken against a student will be placed in that student's file and is therefore confidential.


Schools offer services such as counseling for victims. In line with supporting the victim, if a victim and has a class or classes with a perpetrator, the victim should not be asked to change his/her/their class(es). The perpetrator should be the one inconvenienced. Otherwise, the victim can feel retaliated against and victimized all over again. It doesn't matter if this is a special education student, honors student, or AP student. If a victim has the same lunch slot as a perpetrator, the school should either accommodate the victim and have the perpetrator change his/her/their schedule or, if that's not possible, then have adult supervision present at all times.

If your child is a victim and you are dissatisfied with the district's investigation or results, you may file a complaint with PRS (Problem Resolution System) through DESE (Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education). The State may investigate the bullying and require the district to take different action.


Bullying can lead to anxiety, depression, suicide, and chronic absenteeism/school avoidance.







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