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Forestdale mom appeals for bullying law

BOSTON — A Cape Cod mother made a tearful plea to state legislators yesterday to pass one of a dozen bills addressing school bullying, saying the state must step in to assure schools do their job in protecting students from mental and physical anguish.

“I felt my son needed to be protected. The bullying completely disrupted his ability to feel safe in a learning environment,” said Theresa Jackson, a Forestdale resident and mother of a 13-year-old boy with autism spectrum disorder.

Jackson told the Joint Committee on Education about an incident in which her son, then 12, was videotaped at a Forestdale Elementary School dance without his knowledge. The classmate shared that cell phone video, including the full name of Jackson’s son, on YouTube, where viewers posted pages and pages of unkind comments, Jackson told the committee.

“To this day, when that song that he was dancing to comes on the radio, we turn it off immediately because we can still see that look on his face, from when he first saw that video on YouTube,” Jackson said in an interview before the hearing.

Jackson spoke in support of a bill that would require the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to design a model policy to address bullying and provide that model and other educational materials to school districts. The school districts could then modify their own anti-bullying policies.

The bill would require school districts to involve a variety of community members, including students, parents and law enforcement officials when drafting their anti-bullying policies. Copies of those policies would be posted in public areas in the schools, including cafeterias.

While no one testified in opposition of the bill, Paul Andrews, director of professional development and government services at the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents, said that the organization supports the legislation but pointed out many schools are already addressing bullying in schools.

“We don’t want it to become a clerical issue where it’s going to take more time to fill out paperwork than it is to follow the statute,” Andrews said in a phone interview.

But State Rep. Matthew C. Patrick, D-Falmouth, who is co-sponsoring the bill, denied that the bill would create more bureaucracy for school administrators.

“Once it (the policy) is established, I don’t think its any more work for an administrator,” he said in an interview after he testified on behalf of the bill.

Jackson said the case involving her son was evidence that state supervision is necessary. She said the school would not foster mediation between her son and the accused bully, or release the alleged bully’s identity to her. She had to find the student’s parents on her own before the YouTube video was removed.

Sandwich school Supt. Mary Ellen Johnson, who took over the role in the district after the incident, would not speak about Jackson’s specific case. However, she said she would support legislation that would help address bullying and says that the Sandwich schools take a “proactive” approach to address inappropriate behavior.

The Anti-Defamation League helped draft the bill. Thirty-seven other states have passed some sort of anti-bullying legislation.

The bill, introduced by State Rep. John H. Rogers, D-Norwood, would also address cyberbullying, the use of antagonistic e-mail and social networking media on the Internet that would create a disruptive or hostile school environment.

The bill would also require schools to appoint an employee to handle all bullying complaints and to establish a procedure for reporting incidents to law enforcement.

http://www.capecodonline.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20091118/NEWS/911180313/-1/NEWSMAP



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