SPECIAL EDUCATION ADVOCATE
Helping Students Reach Their Potential, Pre-K through College
Is your child being bullied? Schools have the responsibility to keep your child safe from bullying and must have specific requirements in place.
How are bullying and cyberbullying defined in Massachusetts anti-bullying laws and regulations?
Massachusetts anti-bullying laws include the following definitions of bullying and cyberbullying:
“Bullying”, means the repeated use by one or more students of a written, verbal or electronic expression or a physical act or gesture or any combination thereof, directed at a target that:
(a) causes physical or emotional harm to the target or damage to the target's property;
(b) places the target in reasonable fear of harm to himself or herself or damage to his or her property;
(c) creates a hostile environment at school for the target;
(d) infringes on the rights of the target at school; or
(e) materially and substantially disrupts the education process or the orderly operation of a school.
Bullying shall include cyberbullying.
“Cyberbullying” means bullying through the use of technology or any electronic communication, which shall include, but not be limited to, any transfer of signs, signals, writing, images, sounds, data or intelligence of any nature transmitted in whole or in part by a wire, radio, electromagnetic, photo electronic or photo optical system, including, but not limited to, electronic mail, internet communications, instant messages or facsimile communications. Cyberbullying shall also include:
(a) the creation of a web page or blog in which the creator assumes the identity of another person; or
(b) the knowing impersonation of another person as the author of posted content or messages, if the creation or impersonation creates any of the conditions in bullying(a) through (e).
“Cyberbullying” shall also include the distribution by electronic means of a communication to more than one person or the posting of material on an electronic medium that may be accessed by one or more persons, if the distribution or posting creates any of the conditions in bullying(a) through (e).
Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 71, § 37O (2014)
Do Massachusetts anti-bullying laws and regulations cover cyberbullying that occurs off-campus?
Yes. Massachusetts anti-bullying laws cover off-campus conduct that occurs at a location, activity, function, or program that is not school-related or through the use of technology or an electronic device that is not owned, leased, or used by a school district or school if the bullying:
(a) creates a hostile environment at school for the target;
(b) infringes on the rights of the target at school; or
(c) materially and substantially disrupts the education process or the orderly operation of a school.
What are the policy requirements for schools to prevent and respond to bullying behavior?
Massachusetts school districts are required to develop a plan addressing bullying prevention and intervention. District plans must contain key policy and procedural elements, including, but not limited to:
Statements prohibiting bullying, cyberbullying, and retaliation;
Procedures for reporting and investigations, including procedures for collecting, maintaining, and reporting bullying incident data;
Statements of consequences for violation of the policy;
Procedures for restoring sense of safety for a victim and assessing needs for protection;
Strategies for providing counseling or referral for perpetrators and victims; and
Requirements for how the policy will be publicized within the district.
Massachusetts state law requires that districts review and update the plan at least biennially.
Do Massachusetts anti-bullying laws and regulations include protections for specific groups?
Yes. Massachusetts anti-bullying laws require that each bullying prevention and intervention plan recognize that certain students may be more vulnerable to becoming a target of bullying or harassment based on actual or perceived differentiating characteristics, including race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, sex, socioeconomic status, homelessness, academic status, gender identity or expression, physical appearance, pregnant or parenting status, sexual orientation, mental, physical, developmental or sensory disability or by association with a person who has or is perceived to have one or more of these characteristics. The plan must include specific steps that each school district shall take to support vulnerable students and to provide all students with the skills, knowledge, and strategies needed to prevent or respond to bullying or harassment. Districts may also establish separate discrimination or harassment policies that include additional categories of students.
Massachusetts schools that receive federal funding are required by federal law to address discrimination based on certain personal characteristics. Find out when bullying may be a civil rights violation.
Do Massachusetts anti-bullying laws and regulations encourage or require districts to implement bullying prevention programs or strategies?
Yes. Massachusetts school districts must provide age-appropriate, evidence-based instruction on bullying prevention in each grade that is incorporated into the curriculum.
Do Massachusetts anti-bullying laws and regulations encourage or require districts to train teachers and other school staff on how to respond to bullying incidents?
Yes. Massachusetts school districts’ bullying prevention and intervention plans must include a provision for ongoing professional development to build the skills of all staff members to prevent, identify, and respond to bullying.
Do Massachusetts anti-bullying laws and regulations encourage or require districts to provide safeguards or mental health supports for students involved with bullying?
Yes. Massachusetts school districts’ bullying prevention and intervention plans must include clear procedures for restoring a sense of safety for a victim and assessing that victim’s needs for protection. Each bullying prevention and intervention plan must also include a strategy for providing counseling and referral to appropriate services to perpetrators and victims and their family members.
Do Massachusetts anti-bullying laws and regulations involve parents in efforts to address bullying behavior?
Yes. Massachusetts school districts are required to develop a plan to address bullying prevention and intervention in consultation with teachers, school staff, professional support personnel, school volunteers, administrators, community representatives, local law enforcement agencies, students, parents, and guardians. The district plan must include procedures for notifying the parents or guardians of the victim and the perpetrator. The plan must also include provisions for informing parents and guardians about the school’s bullying prevention curriculum.
For More Information
Visit the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s “Bullying Prevention and Intervention” webpage and/or view the Massachusetts state model bullying prevention and intervention plan on bullying and harassment.
The key component framework used in the analysis of state laws is based on the review of legislation presented in the “Analysis of State Bullying Laws and Policies – December 2011” (U.S. Department of Education).
Date Last Reviewed
August 1, 2021