Why We Should Drop The Anti-Bullying Law

If the plea agreements of Phoebe Prince’s bullies prove anything, it is that Massachusetts should not have, of all things, an anti-bullying law. The law, passed in May of 2010, requires school administrators to report bullying-type acts to police, especially if they constitute a crime in their own right, like an assault and battery charge. In other words, the new law does little more than mandate what should already be done among parents and attentive administrators.

Phoebe Prince’s suicide is, in theory, a case of such common sense not prevailing among the administrative set: The argument for an anti-bullying measure has always been that if South Hadley officials had a law on which to rely, Prince might still be alive. But Tuesday’s plea agreement argues that no law can suss out the more aggressive forms of bullying, because no decent punishment can be exacted on the worst offenders. Though the DA wanted criminal charges to hold against the bullies, the prosecution and defense agreed to misdemeanors for five of the six kids who harassed Prince. So even a case that garnered international headlines and roused the prosecution into frothy tenacity, a case that presented no-less macabre an Exhibit “A” than a dead teenage girl, even that case couldn’t elicit a stark and clear judgment. Because even that case was clouded by the gray shades of bullying and those teenagers who dish it out, deal with it. There’s a reason that the state’s anti-bullying law doesn’t actually make bullying a crime. It does not want to take a stand on the mundane cruelties that constitutes every teenager’s life, and, if she’s lucky, only quite a few of her days. If bullying were a crime, schools would approach totalitarian regimes.

Politicians know that. So what we have today is an ineffective law that is smart enough — or cynical enough — to know that it’s ineffective. Its main aim was to placate a mournful public. It did that. But now its particulars must be enacted — and that’s the problem. At a time when many school districts face deep cuts, the new anti-bullying law ask schools to fund anti-bullying courses, where the lesson never ventures too far from “respect others.” There are many places, including this blog, where kids can read that for free. A number of teachers now say the courses represent money that could be spent elsewhere. But it won’t be, not until politicians have the guts to second-guess the maudlin bill they passed.

Don’t wait to see who does that.