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Massachusetts lawmakers approve anti-bullying bill

By Sarah Klein

The Massachusetts House of Representatives last week passed groundbreaking legislation, which for the first time extends the definition of bullying to include cyberbullying, the harassment of others via the Internet, e-mail or text messaging. The unanimous 148-0 vote comes on the heels of the tragic death of a South Hadley teen in January of this year.

Phoebe Prince, a 15-year-old high school student, hanged herself after enduring weeks of bullying from her classmates, much of it via Facebook and text messaging. While bullying itself has existed since the first schoolhouse opened its doors, e-mail, cell phones and social networks have taken traditionally tormenting to a whole new level.

"With technology, students can be cruel to each other in ways that were previously unimaginable," Martha M. Walz, a Boston Democrat and House chairwoman of the Joint Committee on Education, told Fox News. "The threat in the playground or the locker room has morphed into an electronic menace and one that is often anonymous."

The legislation—which Governor Deval Patrick has indicated he will sign into law—aims to make schools a safer place and to extend the watchful eye of school officials to cover after-hours activity.

Like most schoolyard problems, banning bullying is easier said than done. However, the bill would attempt to put some preventive measures in place. School districts would be required to create awareness programs for students and institute anti-bullying training for teachers.

In the spirit of the National Day of Silence, a yearly event meant to draw attention to anti-LGBT name-calling, bullying and harassment in schools, the bill also called for a statewide "no name calling" day for students to reflect on bullying and pledge to treat each other with more kindness and respect.

While the House's version is slightly different than the bill previously passed by the Senate, some Massachusetts towns aren't waiting for the Governor to reconcile the two and are starting to take the necessary steps to limit bullying.

In the past, schools had little control over bullying committed after school hours or on personal computers. They even had the near-impossible task of arguing against first amendment lobbyists. But as the focus shifts from punishment to prevention, hopefully these new measures can help prevent tragedies from happening in the future.

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