It’s unfathomable to us that no legislation has been filed to strengthen the state’s anti-bullying law since the death of 16-year-old Anna Aslanian, the Lowell High School student who took her own life last year after being relentlessly bullied in middle and high school.
At the time elected officials vowed to take action. But in the intervening months, no lawmaker has filed a bill to re-examine schools’ anti-bullying policies.
We can’t imagine that anyone who read those riveting, heartbreaking stories believes the current anti-bullying laws sufficiently protect victims of these vile acts, which in the extreme led to the tragic loss of life.
Officials in January discussed amending the state’s bullying policy — which currently does not allow bullying victims to learn how or if the bully was punished by the school. The Lowell City Council even sent a motion to its Statehouse delegation to revisit the policy.
“No one in the delegation had any interest in filing that. I don’t think that’s a very thoughtful solution, and wouldn’t do anything to curtail bullying,” said state Sen. Edward Kennedy, whose 1st Middlesex District includes Dunstable, Groton and Pepperell.
We vehemently disagree.
Bullies, aside from being social misfits, are essentially cowards, imbued with false courage by associating with other likeminded knuckle-draggers, or by the veil of secrecy that the Internet provides.
We seriously doubt they’d be so brazen if they realized their victims would know the source of the disgusting, degrading behavior directed at them, and if their despicable acts were properly punished.
Kennedy cited the state’s 2010 anti-bullying law — passed in the wake of South Hadley High School student Phoebe Prince’s suicide. That bill established a set of requirements for schools that included procedures for staff and students to report bullying.
While well-intentioned, this legislation didn’t get to the core of the issue, since the reported incidences of students exhibiting that behavior constituted a small percentage of bullying episodes.
And rather than decreasing, teen suicides have increased in the past decade. From 2014 to 2015 in Massachusetts, youth suicides jumped from 69 to 76, according to the Samaritans of Merrimack Valley, and increased to 86 in 2016.
As Greater Lowell Technical High School Committee member Ray Boutin related, Lowell’s other legislators — Reps. Tom Golden, Dave Nangle and Rady Mom — don’t believe such a bill could pass legal muster, due to federal student privacy laws.
But as Anna Aslanian’s mother, Itea, said, “as long as you keep protecting the bully, victims will continue to be uncomfortable. They feel like no one is there for them.”
We also take issue with contention that anti-bullying policies are best left to each school district to determine.
Only an updated, comprehensive policy enacted into law that expands bullying victims’ rights will suffice.
We understand lawmakers’ reluctance to take on controversial issues, but while challenging, swinging the legal pendulum back in the direction of bullying-victims’ rights isn’t one of them.
The Legislature has an opportunity to help prevent the unspeakable sorrow the parents of Anna Aslanian carry with them from happening again.
That alone should be motivation enough to craft a law that gives bullying victims equal rights.