Massachusetts’ Anti-Bullying Law: It Got Better & Students Get A Say!

pictured: MA Governor Deval Patrick signs improved anti-bullying legislation into law
pictured: MA Governor Deval Patrick signs improved anti-bullying legislation into law

Youth hear over and over again that “it gets better”. And it does. In fact, the Massachusetts Anti-Bullying law got even better last week when it was strengthened in three key ways. This is a great step forward for Massachusetts youth. Under the amended law: School anti-bullying plans must prohibit bullying someone based on certain personal characteristics, including actual or perceived LGBTQ-status, as well as their friends and the children of LGBTQ couples.

Each school’s anti-bullying plan must recognize that certain students are more likely to be targets of bullying or harassment because of personal characteristics. The law specifically identifies sexual orientation and gender identity or expression as characteristics that make someone likely to be bullied. It also protects someone who is perceived to have one of these characteristics as well as someone who associates with someone who is or is perceived to have one of these characteristics.

This “association” language really boosts the protection of the law. It makes sure that someone who hangs out with their LGBTQ friend during school is protected, and it protects children of LGBTQ parents because they “associate with” their parents, too.
Other characteristics identified in the law are: race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, sex, socioeconomic status, homelessness, academic status, physical appearance, pregnant or parenting status, mental, physical, developmental or sensory disability.

  • Schools must report bullying data to the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE)

This new law holds schools accountable by requiring schools to report bullying data to DESE annually.

Data that must be reported includes:

  • the number of reported allegations of bullying or retaliation;
  • the number and nature of incidents where schools found that bullying or retaliation happened;
  • the number of students disciplined for engaging in bullying or retaliation.
  • any other information required by the DESE.

With this data, DESE can compare school districts, examine how often bullying is alleged but not substantiated, and determine the number of students disciplined. By requiring schools to report the nature of the bullying, we’ll get data about bullying and LGBTQ people.

DESE will annually report statewide data that identifies trends and areas for improvement. DESE also is empowered to investigate bullying and, if a covered school is found not to have properly enforced its prevention plan, DESE may enforce the prevention plan or take other appropriate actions.

Students get a say!

DESE will be developing a student survey to gather data on what students think about bullying in their school. Students will be surveyed about school climate and the prevalence, nature and severity of bullying in schools. DESE can compare the student survey results with the school’s reports on bullying. This will be an important reality check for schools and DESE.

The survey will be administered at least once every four years with the first survey to be in the 2016 school year.

Get more information about what you can do about bullying in your school on our youth rights website.

If you need help or more information, contact GLAD Answers at

April 30, 2014 By Vickie Henry, Senior Staff Attorney GLAD