It took two years, two Education Committee votes, two Appropriations Committee votes, and thirteen different votes in the Senate and House, but at approximately 3:00 am this morning, the Maine Legislature passed meaningful legislation to address the growing problem of bullying in our schools.  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. 

The heart of the legislation is a clear and direct prohibition on bullying in schools.  Amazingly, Maine law does not currently have a uniform easy-to-understand definition of bullying, and this legislation is a step towards remedying that deficiency.  The bill also requires the Department of Education to develop a model policy for schools to use in dealing with bullying, and it includes some parameters for that policy.

One of the issues that the ACLU has worked on across the country is the "school to prison pipeline"--funneling children with behavior problems into the criminal justice system, where their lives are often ruined.  It was important to us that the bill include strong language about alternative discipline procedures that keeps students in schools.  Schools are designed to teach, and we hope this legislation will help schools teach students how to better treat one another.

Another issue that we made sure to address is the difference between expressing strong opinions on a sensitive topic and bullying.  Students have the right to free speech, and sometimes passionate speech makes people uncomfortable.  But, that does not mean that the speech equals bullying; bullying is taking action that actually harms another person or denies them an opportunity to get an education.  We feel confident that schools can prohibit bullying while protecting the free expression rights of students.

The bill now awaits the Governor's signature, and we are optimistic that he is going to sign it into law.  We intend to continue to be involved in the development of the model policy, as well as monitoring the implementation of the law in schools across the state.

A copy of the final bill is available here.


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