As is now widely known, Governor Deval Patrick signed the Act Relative to Bullying in Schools in May 2010. This new law prohibits bullying and retaliation in all public and private schools in Massachusetts. Each school has been required to develop its own Bullying Prevention and Intervention Policy by December 31, 2010. The law mandates reporting of any incidence of bullying, cyber-bullying or retaliation witnessed or heard of by adult members of the school community; it encourages students and parents to report suspected cases as well. Further, schools are now required to hold students accountable for bullying situations that occur on OR OFF campus, thereby monitoring more closely the dangerous effects of cyber-bullying that affect a student’s educational experience.
At SBS we now have our plan in place, and on Tuesday, January 4th I presented it to the student body. The following day all advisory groups talked about the plan and how it affects our community; a spokesperson from each group shared important ideas from her advisory’s discussion at this morning’s Housemeeting. Moving forward into the next steps we will continue in a town meeting format to come to some consensus about how we as a community want to move forward in response to the policy.
Several students approached me after Housemeeting to say how happy they are that we’re opening this broad-based conversation around the issues of mean behavior and bullying. I agree with them. The advent of this law has afforded us a good teaching tool; helped us clarify language around bullying, cyber-bullying and retaliation; and encouraged our continuous efforts in tolerance, conflict management, cross-cultural understandings.
Our new policy has triggered some great conversation and a lot of soul-searching. There is much we have to be thankful for in being a small school, not the least of which is the opportunity to know and trust one another enough to report events that are hurtful or mean — as well as take the time to note many random acts of kindness (for some great examples of this, see Laura Lavallee’s blog post). And still, despite those reports and subsequent conversations, those hurtful and mean moments happen on occasion. Putting them into the context of being the kinds of moments that, if repeated, can lead to bullying, we are all asked to think about how we can move closer to becoming a community that works even more deliberately together to hold each other accountable for our words and actions. Hopefully, we will come to consensus over the next few weeks and sensitize ourselves to the realization that our “throw-away” words or gestures are not always taken lightly by their recipients. Hopefully, we will never deal with the kind of pain felt in South Hadley and other communities because of an unaware or insensitive school. At the least, we are doing everything we can think of to work against such a possibility, and the conversation is rich as a result.
– Sally Mixsell, Head of School