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As awareness of bullying grows and the campaigns against it expand, schools and communities nationwide have made some progress in creating safer environments. Anti-bullying laws that condemn the discrimination and intimidation of students in public schools have been adopted by most states, and the governments and schools in those areas are grappling with how to enforce those laws now in place.
On Friday, representatives from Boston Public Schools, Anti-Defamation League, Boston College and Northern Illinois College of Law came together at the American Bar Association Annual Meeting to explore the issue and the approaches that most effectively address the problem.
According to panelists, research supports the conclusion that schools and other institutions can best address bullying through ongoing, comprehensive plans that include both intervention and prevention strategies.
Robert O. Trestan, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League in Boston, spoke about the legislative challenges to address bias in bullying laws, and stressed the importance of education programs, data collection and community involvement in drafting legislation or model laws.
However, Trestan said that while laws can be a focal point for addressing bullying, education, training and community involvement are also critical complements to any effective response.
“Anti-bias education is critical,” stressed Trestan. “I think Massachusetts is a leader in this. We didn’t just pass a law that said ‘these are the rules on how you have to deal with bullying or bullying prevention.’ There is now a requirement that you have to teach students about bullying.”
Most bullying laws are too generic. Trestan said that the biggest challenge in the enforcement of bullying laws is the exclusion of enumerated categories of bias that are often used in other anti-discrimination laws.
“While there are at least 42 states that have some form of an anti-bullying law in the books; there is only a small fraction of them that actually have enumerated categories included in them,” said Trestan. “Why are enumerated categories important? It is important because it sends a clear message to the school community.”
Trestan encouraged bar members to use the ABA’s policy on bullying to raise awareness and involve their state and local bar associations. “The more bar associations we can get to pass similar resolutions, it helps to raise awareness of the issue and helps to get measures in place to deal with bullying.”
“Bullyproof: The Impact of Bias and How it Leads to Bullying” was sponsored by the ABA Young Lawyers Division. The panel was held as part of the YLD’s yearlong public service project “Bullyproof,” an initiative to prevent bullying. The initiative has provided education and resources to parents, students, educators and young lawyers. The program includes resources to help attorneys in representing victims of bullying and prosecuting bullies, advise school districts, advocate for the enactment or revision of school policies, and push for new laws to combat the problem.
In addition to Trestan, the panel included Jodie Elgee, director of bullying prevention and intervention for the Boston Public Schools; Paul V. Poteat, associate professor at Boston College; and Jennifer Rosato Perea, dean of the Northern Illinois College of Law.