Anti-bullying law could face free-speech challenges

When Gov. Deval Patrick signed Massachusetts’ first anti-bullying law May 3, supporters heralded it as the most far-reaching effort yet by a state to deter behavior that has driven youngsters to suicide. But a number of civil-rights lawyers say the new law might go too far and will almost certainly lead to legal challenges, reports the Boston Globe. Fueled in large part by soaring recent complaints about “cyber bullying,’’ some 44 states, including Massachusetts, now have laws that prohibit bullying of students in school and online. But federal lawsuits also have increased, because parents of students who have been disciplined are fighting back. Massachusetts state Rep. Martha Walz, the primary sponsor of that state’s anti-bullying bill, said she took pains to draft a bill that would address bullying while preserving the free-speech rights of students. For one thing, she said, Massachusetts now requires that every student from kindergarten through 12th grade participate in an anti-bullying curriculum every year. Moreover, laws in other states specifically ban bullying that targets individuals based on race, ethnicity, gender, religion, or other traits. The Massachusetts law deliberately eschewed that, Walz said, because bullies elsewhere have avoided discipline by claiming they never intended to target a member of a certain group. “We look at the bully’s actions, rather than the bully’s intent,’’ she said. But some aspects of the law are so general that civil-rights lawyers are concerned about how schools will apply it…

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