State seeks opinions on proposed anti-bullying law.

Tuesday February 22, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- Since Gov. Deval L. Patrick signed a landmark bullying prevention law into legislation nine months ago, school districts in Berkshire County and across the commonwealth have been working to create measures to address the issues in schools and engage families and communities as well.

The new law charged the state Attorney General's Office with the responsibility to form and chair a special multi-agency commission to review state general laws relative to the implementation of the school bullying law. It requires this group to report to the general court its findings and any recommendations by June 30.

The commission held two hearings this month to hear recommendations from various interested agencies and individuals on laws addressing bullying, which includes cyber or online bullying.

"I don't believe that the bill that has passed is perfect," said Berkshire District Attorney David F. Capeless, one of seven members who serve on the commission.

Capeless spoke at the last hearing, held in Springfield on Thursday at the Western New England College School of Law.

"The purpose of the commission is to look at ways to possibly support and strengthen the [bullying] law that's passed. How it will work will take a while for us to understand," Capeless said.

On Feb. 16, hundreds of students, parents, and school district personnel gathered in the auditorium of Drury High School in North Adams to hear student and expert presentations about the subject. The presentations ranged from light-hearted songs promoting acceptance to serious talks about the darker sides and effects of bullying.

One of the speakers at that event was Meghan McCoy, the program coordinator for the Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center at Bridgewater State University. MARC conducts and provides research, education programs and services related to bullying prevention.

"Our ideas of who a bully is and what he and she look like has changed," McCoy said at Drury. "Today we see bullies that are popular kids who are supported by others in the school. They bullies and the victims are not the kids on the outskirts any more," McCoy said.

Other statistics and data found by MARC include:

n Technology has become a powerful tool in bullying.

n Rumors are still considered the number one social issue among youths.

n Students are cyberbullying as young as second grade.

n Bullying and reasons for it vary by gender.

n From a 2007 report: Of 334 college freshmen surveyed about their experiences with bullying in high school, 42 percent reported they had been cyberbullied via online instant messaging; 22 percent admitted to cyberbullying someone else.

At last week's commission hearing, state Attorney General Martha Coakley said many of the statistics on bullying presented in current research is self-reported by students.

"The numbers are likely much higher," she said.

Between now and June, Capeless and his fellow commission members will continue to review the testimonies from the two hearings and write their report.

He praised the state's efforts that have occurred to address the matter of bullying.

"We've tackled a major issue. In order to adequately deal with it, we not only have to change the culture of our schools but change our culture, period," said Capeless. "It's a societal problem. We have a prevention law, not a sanction law. We want to change kids' behavior rather than penalize it."


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