In just two weeks we’ll host our first Bill of Rights Student Conference of the 2013-14 school year. We’ve got more than a dozen schools coming to our conference in Portland, and nearly a dozen more for the Farmington and Belfast conferences in the subsequent weeks. We’ll be covering lots of different topics at our conferences – from free speech to equal protection to police stops – but perhaps the freshest topic of them all will be bullying.
Last year, the Maine Legislature passed an anti-bullying law that requires every public school in the state to adopt a robust policy that protects students from both bullying and cyberbullying. We were very actively involved with both the writing and passage of this bill – along with many other groups around the state – and we’ve got plenty of plans to continue our work now that the bill is law.
Back in March we began leading workshops at schools around the state that addressed the new anti-bullying law and explained to students what protections they now have. With a new school year upon us we’ll be expanding our reach and talking with even more young people – both at our student conferences and during our many classroom visits – about how the law protects them from bullying and cyberbullying.
As we continue to investigate reports of proselytizing in public schools, it’s particularly important to remember that schools can combat bullying and educate students about protecting themselves without using religion inappropriately. The ACLU of Maine is proud to be involved in the anti-bullying effort, but we are by no means alone. Many other groups around Maine are working on the issue from a variety of fronts, and the Civil Rights Team Project run out of the Attorney General’s office does tremendous work in schools surrounding bullying prevention.
Students deserve to be taught about how they can prevent bullying, and many free options exist here in Maine for them to get that education. Ignoring the Establishment Clause of the Constitution and allowing proselytizing – even in the name of preventing bullying – is not only illegal, it’s also unnecessary. We can work together to combat bullying, and over the past two years we’ve seen incredible progress both in Augusta and around the state that will surely be yielding important results in the years ahead.
If you would like us to visit your school and talk about the new anti-bullying law, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 774-5444 and I’d be happy to schedule a trip. Like all of our education programming, there is no cost to schools whatsoever.