Massachusetts School Districts Break Bullying Law-Attorney Sam’s Take

Massachusetts bullying is not simply old news these days. As predicted, many people have made the mistake of assuming that the rushed so-called “anti-bullying” statute would solve the problem. They figured that the schools, following the clear guidance our elected officials presented would take care of it.

It didn’t. Maybe because the “guidance” presented was anything but clear.

To date, more than a third of Massachusetts school districts have failed to present complete antibullying plans by the end of 2010. This deadline was one of the few clear and presumed urgent things presented by the law, but why quibble? These figures, by the way, were by the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

On the other hand, some school districts have complied….sort of. In 13 percent of those plans, at least a quarter of the elements required by the law were not clearly addressed.

If I may add a little note here…since the legislative “cure all”, I have actually seen a growth of calls regarding severe bullying problems about which the schools seem to have turned a blind eye…no matter what evidence was placed before said eye. An example of how bad the problem is can be illustrated by the simplest of requirements of the new law, namely, contacting parents of the kids involved. Even this seemingly simple exercise seems to be too much for the schools to handle.

Elizabeth Englander, the director of the Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center at Bridgewater State University, who helped shape the law, seems to have escaped disillusionment. She explains “This was always going to be a work in progress…I think I was operating on the assumption that maybe half of the schools would really get it right the first time.”

One can certainly understand how difficult requirements like contacting parents would be something that would take several tries to get right.

Of course, private schools have not failed to perform as required. The “strongest anti-bullying law in the country”, as the lawmakers had dubbed it, does not include private schools, with the exception of schools for special education students.

You might think that failing to comply with the law would bring about its own penalties for the school districts. After all, this was considered urgent legislation pushed through in answer to bullying victims’ suicides.

Nope. No penalty.

Some people believe that, since school board members are elected, they should be punished by removal or lack of votes for not complying.

Maybe. We’ll see.

The problem of bullying or violent kids may be changing, however. It seems to be getting worse.

A new study suggests that the longer teenager from abroad live in the United States, the more likely they are to become violent.

The study, by Northeastern University researchers who surveyed hundreds of Boston teenagers, found that local high school students who arrived recently from foreign countries are significantly less violent than their American-born counterparts. However, the researchers found that as the immigrant teens spend more time in the United States, their behavior deteriorates.
What surprised researchers at Northeastern was how quickly youths who came to the United States began adopting bullying and violent behavior.

“Within a matter of four years of being in this country, the youths’ rates of violence were converging with those of us born here,” said Joanna Almeida, associate research scientist at Northeastern’s Institute of Urban Health Research. “It’s not even that it takes a generation. It’s happening within a handful of years.”

Community leaders who work with young immigrants said the study confirmed what they already knew.

Valerie Batts, executive director of Visions Inc., a Roxbury-based group that promotes diversity, said young men born outside the country who have participated in the group’s programs have said they felt they needed to bully others, and even carry a gun, to avoid becoming victims.

As an experienced Boston criminal defense attorney, I howled in this blog when there was suddenly a movement, led by a, now, ex-district attorney to solve this problem with felony indictments. I warned that, in the overnight creation of anti-bullying bill would virtually force schools to do nothing about bullying but pass the problem over to law enforcement. I argued that this would ruin many lives.

What I did not expect was that so many of the schools would simply do…nothing.

The law itself, which I have also criticized in the past, is unduly vague. It was the product of politicians not wanting to be outdone by elected prosecutors and so wanting to seem “tough on crime”. What they came up with was this overnight mishmash.

In short, it was what I would expect them to come up with in so short a time.

But schools are different. They are supposed to be experts in dealing with these issues. For them to do next to nothing, if not actually nothing, to obey the new law would be as unforgivable as the lawmakers providing no penalty for breaking the law.

Oops, sorry. That’s what happened, isn’t it?

Having no leadership from lawmakers or schools, I wonder how kids will handle the bullying problem.

Actually, that is not true. It is quite clear how they are handling it. And new American kids are learning the environment, and how to survive in it, very quickly.

So, what does this have to do with you?

Plenty, if you are either a student or care about one. I have seen a number of cases where students, like those mentioned above, feel they must bully or else be bullied. However, as these situation tend to escalate, the original victim, thinking they are merely surviving, may breach the criminal law. Or should I say that they could be the one who gets caught.

So, if there is a bullying problem in which you are involved, on either side, it is best to hire experienced counsel. Students can, and will, be wrongfully accused. Others may have a back story to explain the situation. Further, others may be getting tired of being the victim in a microcosm which is doing little to help them and be about to take matters into their own hands.

All this while we remain complacent because our “daring” law makers rushed a law that was incredibly vague and had no teeth which is virtually ignored by many schools.

After all, it is our kids we are talking about
If you want to discuss a criminal case with me, feel free to call me for a free initial consultation. I can be reached at t 617-492-3000.

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