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Mass. Senate Passes Anti-Bullying Legislation

THE STATE HOUSE — Prompted by the suicide of a 15-year-old South Hadley girl, the Massachusetts Senate unanimously approved a bill (PDF) Thursday designed to clamp down on school bullying across the state.

Though the legislation would not criminalize the act — as critics of the bill have called for — the proposed law would prohibit bullying at schools. The legislation would further define bullying and discourage so-called cyberbullying by prohibiting the use of e-mails, text messages, Internet postings and other electronic means to target a victim.

State Sen. Robert O’Leary (D-Barnstable) chairs the Education Committee. He outlined the bill’s main provisions to WBUR on Wednesday.

“It’s requiring all schools to confront the issue. We know some (schools) are now, but not all,” O’Leary said. “And the second piece is that it gives schools the authority to deal with a new type of bullying that’s very, very pervasive, and that’s cyberbullying.”

The bill would require all Massachusetts school districts to develop a bullying prevention and intervention plan by the end of the year. School principals would also be required to report bullies to police if the principal believes that criminal charges could be pursued.

“What we say is if any of that behavior impacts on the school environment, then the school authorities have the right to sort of confront, in fact they are required to confront that behavior and put a stop to it,” O’Leary said.

A similar bill cleared the Senate last year, but languished before it could become law. But the January suicide of the South Hadley teen who was allegedly bullied by classmates has renewed interest in the issue. In April 2009, a 11-year-old boy in Springfield also committed suicide after allegedly being bullied.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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