A scared child can’t learn, and any school that looks the other way when a student is threatened or harassed is failing in its primary mission.

That is so obvious it hardly seems worth saying, but apparently the message has not been heard in many Maine school districts in which children are relentlessly bullied, depriving them of their dignity, sense of safety and right to an education.

If the school districts can’t identify and respond to this problem, the state should.

L.D. 1237, “An act to prohibit bullying” is an attempt to step up the state’s role by clarifying what bullying is and by requiring school officials to report it when they see it and follow up after it’s reported. The Legislature should take this step to protect children and their right to learn.

The bill would go after conduct that falls below the level that some school administrators feel requires them to take action. Everyone would agree that it’s wrong for one student to assault another; and the consequences, right up through suspension, expulsion and criminal prosecution, are already in place.

But what about name-calling, or persistent unwelcome jokes? Those actions might not leave bruises, but they can be damaging just the same.


L.D. 1237 would define bullying as written, spoken or electronic expression that threatens, intimidates or interferes with a student’s psychological well-being. The actions would be prohibited at school and at all school events. The law also would ban electronic bullying delivered via school-owned equipment.

When caught, bullies would face both traditional discipline as well as alternatives that could include community service, anger management or counseling. The flexibility would give administrators a range of choices to find the appropriate reaction and give them no excuse for doing nothing.

This bill is not, as critics have charged, a violation of free speech rights. It is a reaffirmation of the idea that every student has a right to an education and should not have it taken away.

It is also not a special protection for lesbian or gay students, although students who are gay or are perceived to be gay are frequent targets of harassment.

A hostile environment in school is a bad environment for everyone, from the victims of bullying, to those who witness it, to those in authority who tolerate or ignore it.

The Legislature should take action and make sure that everyone who works in schools gets this message, and is prepared to carry it out.

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