THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Nearly all schools file antibullying proposals

Mass. law set a Dec. 31 deadline

By Sarah Schweitzer
Globe Staff / January 4, 2011

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Ninety-nine percent of Massachusetts school districts filed bullying-prevention plans with the state by the Dec. 31 deadline — a marked turnaround from nearly two weeks ago when just 60 percent had complied with the mandate.

Only six schools — two public, one charter, and three private special education schools — failed to file plans with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education as required by the new law that seeks to protect students from bullying in schools and beyond.

The law, signed by Governor Deval Patrick last May after the suicide of bullied South Hadley student Phoebe Prince, requires schools to adopt clear procedures for reporting and investigating cases of bullying, as well as methods for preventing retaliation against those who report problems.

Representative Marty Walz, chief author of the bullying prevention law, said the high rate of plan submission is evidence that schools are serious about prevention. But she said it was only a first step.

The success of the law “will be measured by how well the schools prevent bullying,’’ she said. “This is just the beginning. . . . The important work of changing school climate is what’s ahead of us.’’

Among the most effective antibullying programs, research has shown, are those that change school culture — often by involving entire school communities, including teachers, bullies, cafeteria workers, librarians, school bus drivers, and children who witness bullying, and imbuing them with a sense that bullying is not acceptable behavior.

School plans that have been submitted will be scrutinized to make sure they include the required elements, said JC Considine, the education department spokesman.

The department will conduct routine reviews to make sure schools are complying. The agency also will investigate parent complaints of bullying, if necessary.

“Parents should start locally with their principal or superintendent. But there is a system in place for them to contact the department if they have concerns,’’ Considine said.

The schools that did not submit plans by the end-of-the-year deadline are: two public schools, the tiny Gosnold Public School District on the Elizabeth Islands, and the Massachusetts Academy of Math & Science in Worcester; one charter school, the Martin Luther King Jr. Charter School of Excellence in Springfield; and three private special education schools, Metro South Academy in East Bridgewater, Children’s Study Home/Mill Pond School in Springfield, and Whitney Academy in East Freetown, according to the department.

The six schools were notified in writing yesterday of their noncompliance and will be required to tell the department when they intend to comply. The law does not specify penalties for failing to file a plan by the deadline.

Private schools — with the exception of schools for special education students — do not have to submit plans to the Department of Education.

William Davila, a deputy director of one of the six noncompliant schools, the Children’s Study Home in Springfield, said his school submitted its plan last week.

Considine said yesterday afternoon that the state had received no plan from the school.

The medical director at Whitney Academy, Donald Sherak, said his school, which is a residential treatment center, had crafted a policy but had not yet filed it.

“This is a special-needs school and a lot of these kids have been victimized so we take this very seriously,’’ Sherak said. He said he did not know why the plan had not been filed.

Calls to the four other schools were not returned immediately yesterday afternoon.

Among the components that must be included in the school plans were: descriptions and statements prohibiting bullying, clear procedures for reporting and investigating bullying, the range of punishments that can be taken against a bully, procedures for prompt notification of parents or guardians of bully targets and bullies, and provisions for staff training on bullying.

Under the law, districts were required to consider input for their plans from school staff, teachers, volunteers, parents, students, residents, and law enforcement.

In many cases, local school committees approved plans before submitting them to the Department of Education.

Considine said the public approval component might have slowed districts in their submission of plans. About 40 percent were filed with the department in the final days of 2010.

Sarah Schweitzer can be reached at schweitzer@globe.com.

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