In June of 2011, the Maine Legislature set aside a bill addressing bullying in schools, leaving its future uncertain. It would be one of many bumps in the road, but no one supporting the legislation gave up. In the months ahead, students, educators, and stakeholders would continue to share their input with members of the Education Committee, who ultimately gave the bill their unanimous support in January of this year. Four months later – at approximately 3:00 a.m. in the morning – Maine’s anti-bullying bill passed both houses of the legislature with overwhelming margins.
This was a huge victory for students all across Maine, and one that will have real and significant consequences in the years ahead. Unlike before, all Maine schools will now have a clear and direct prohibition against bullying. Schools will be given a range of alternative discipline strategies to use, they’ll have consistent policies focused on prevention and accountability, and staff will be specifically trained on how to address and prevent bullying.
The ACLU of Maine worked with a number of wonderful organizations – the Maine Women's Lobby, GLAD, EqualityMaine, GLSEN, the Maine Children's Alliance, the Maine Education Association, and many others – to help make this legislation possible. As an organization dedicated to free speech, we were particularly sensitive to the need for protecting students’ First Amendment rights. We were extremely pleased that the final bill struck an appropriate balance that will honor students' fundamental civil liberties, while at the same time protecting their safety.
In 2013, we’ll be traveling to schools all around Maine to teach students about this new law. We’ll tell them how the law prohibits bullying, we’ll discuss what implications it has for them, and we’ll answer their questions about the line between free speech and bullying. No one is under the delusion that one piece of legislation can end the epidemic of bullying, but this bill is a tremendous step forward and its impact will be felt by real students all across Maine for years to come.
For that reason, passage of the anti-bullying law is one of the civil liberties highlights of 2012. All week long our staff will be blogging about our other favorite moments of the year, so join us here throughout the week. You can also share your favorite moments with us on Facebook or Twitter. There's many to choose from!