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Teens, lawmakers push antibully bill

Measure would force schools to help protect the vulnerable

Eduarda DaRosa (right), a freshman at Everett High School who testified on Beacon Hill yesterday, pointed to her head as she described to lawmakers how she was injured by a bully.
Eduarda DaRosa (right), a freshman at Everett High School who testified on Beacon Hill yesterday, pointed to her head as she described to lawmakers how she was injured by a bully. (Globe Photo / Lisa Poole)

Sometimes at night, after a long day at school, 14-year-old Jerry Lopez buried his head and cried in the dark. On the bad days, bullies threw rocks, spit at him, and scoffed at his dream to become an actor, he said. On the good days, most people didn't talk to him at all.

Ashley Scannelli, also 14, said classmates ridiculed her. Eduarda DaRosa said a bully once grabbed her hair and threw her into a metal pole, cutting her forehead and sending her home in tears.

The three freshmen from Everett High School testified yesterday on Beacon Hill, supporting a bill they hope will protect them from abusive teenagers. Called the Safe Schools Act, the proposed legislation would require schools statewide to enact strict policies to prevent bullying.

''Teachers don't do enough sometimes," Lopez testified before the Joint Education Committee. ''Sometimes they just acted like it wasn't their business."

Proposed by Senator Jarrett T. Barrios, a Cambridge Democrat, the measure would require schools statewide to formalize policies for detecting bullying and meting out punishment. The bill would also call for schools to designate one staff member to implement the plan, which Barrios said would be enforced by the state Department of Education.

Heidi B. Perlman, spokeswoman for the Department of Education, said last night that she had not reviewed the legislation and had no comment.

School officials often disregard bullying complaints, or students do not report them because they are uncomfortable, Barrios said. The act would force schools to be more aggressive in rooting out bullies, he said, leaving the implementation up to individual schools. Each year, schools would also be required to file their policies with the state.

''It would simply require that schools do the jobs most of us already expect them to do," said Barrios, who is also running for district attorney in Middlesex County.

Representative Patricia Haddad, chairwoman of the Joint Education Committee, was sympathetic with the students as they testified yesterday. ''It's always hard to see young people in pain," the Somerset Democrat said.

In 2004, Lopez, Scannelli, and DaRosa helped draft the bill while they attended Madeline English School, an Everett middle school where they said much of the abuse occurred. Their former guidance counselor, Judi Harrington, joined them at the hearing.

All four complained yesterday that teachers often told students to toughen up and handed down feeble punishments that many bullies shrugged off.

''Teachers and principals don't see it, but there's a lot of bullying going on," DaRosa said. ''People that bullied me back then are still doing it today."

Nobody at the hearing yesterday opposed the bill, nor did any organizations openly endorse it. The Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents has not reviewed the bill, its director said yesterday, and the Boston School Department has not taken a position on it.

Most Massachusetts schools, including those in Boston, have already enacted antibullying plans, said Thomas Scott, executive director of the superintendents' association. Uniform enforcement might be effective, he said, provided the state does not micromanage school districts.

In Boston, administrators have approached bullying on two fronts: through an antibullying curriculum taught each year and by teaching faculty and staff how to spot bullies and victims, who may not come forward otherwise, district spokesman Jonathan Palumbo said.

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