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July 28, 2013

State anti-bullying law is toothless

The Massachusetts anti-bullying law, hailed in 2010 as model legislation, is toothless and often ineffective, underfunded, hobbled by a lack of oversight and lacking requirements for tracking the number of bullying incidents, an investigation by the New England Center for Investigative Reporting has found.

While some school districts responded with strong anti-bullying initiatives after passage of the legislation, many other schools, with no money for programs and no enforcement of the law’s mandates, have done little more than file a plan and hold occasional school assemblies, say parents and groups working with students. They say the promise to address bullying, prompted by the suicides of two Massachusetts’ youths, has gone unfulfilled.

“So we have the law in place, but there’s no monitoring going on by the state or by anyone that can say, ‘Let’s see the data. Let’s see what’s going on,’ “ said Sirdeaner Walker, an advocate for anti-bullying programs who was at Gov. Deval Patrick’s side in 2010 when he signed the much-ballyhooed legislation.

She is the mother of Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover, who killed himself at age 11 in 2009. Walker says her son told her other students “were threatening to beat him up, threatening to kill him.”

“He couldn’t even eat lunch in the cafeteria, he had to eat lunch with the guidance counselor. He loved school. He was very, very smart. And I think that, in the right setting, he would have excelled and done very well,” she said.

His death spurred her to take action. But there is “resistance from superintendents to actually have an anti-bullying law in place,” she said from her home in Springfield. “I think it kind of ties into the fact that people did not want to track the incidents of bullying in their schools because for some schools, they see it as reflecting negatively.”

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