PEABODY — School Committee members and the mayor blasted the state's new anti-bullying law Tuesday during a discussion about whether to accept a new policy on bullying.
"This goes way beyond the scope of what I think is appropriate, and because of that I will be voting against this," member Jarrod Hochman said before casting the lone vote against adopting the district's new policy.
The state law — passed in May in response to a series of recent teen suicides resulting from unrelenting bullying — forces Peabody to draft and adopt an anti-bullying policy. The law has several mandates on reporting, investigating, and teaching students and teachers about bullying prevention.
However well-intended, the state law creates more work for administrators, costs too much money and is ultimately ineffective, according to several members of the School Committee.
"When we finish the autopsy on public education as we know it — which looks like not too many years from now — it will be the case of death by 1,000 paper cuts," member David McGeney said. "All of this is nonsense."
The new law, McGeney continued, "will increase the number of (bullying) reports, increase the number of lawsuits, increase the time staff spends trying to implement the guidelines, but I don't think it will increase the safety of students in a school district with a competent administration."
Mayor Michael Bonfanti said he shared those sentiments.
"Here we are in a period of diminishing resources, and we're putting resources in an area we don't need," he said. "The thing that is killing education are all of these unfunded mandates. We cannot keep doing these things."
The main concerns are how much time and money will be spent on filing bullying reports, mandated teacher trainings and classroom time devoted to bullying prevention.
"We're watering down the quality of education in the school district," Hochman said. "Now we're devoting professional development time to bullying (instead of other subjects). Now we're having to take time away from science and other core subjects because we need to teach kids about bullying.."
Peabody's proposed 11-page anti-bullying policy requires all school staff — including custodians, bus drivers and coaches — to immediately report any bullying to the principal to investigate. If the principal determines that bullying, cyberbullying or retaliation took place, he or she must notify parents, administer disciplinary and corrective action, and take steps to protect the target of the bullying and any witnesses.
School Committee members Brandi Carpenter and Ed Charest, while not offering rousing endorsements of the state's new law, said something needs to be done.
"Can we throw out half of this (legislation)? Probably we should. And the unfunded mandate part of this stinks. But kids are dying. We have to do something," Charest said.
"Clearly there is a need for this, maybe not in our schools, we're doing a good job, but there are kids out there that need this," Carpenter said. "Talk about watered-down education, there are some kids who are not getting any because of this (bullying). I realize this is an unfunded mandate. ... It may be hard in the beginning, but in the long run, the time and instruction will benefit some of those poor kids falling through the cracks."
In the end, the committee did vote to adopt the policy. It will vote on it again at its Dec. 21 meeting, and it will officially be adopted if it passes a second time.