Bills Ban Bullying, Promote Healthy Foods in Schools
BOSTON – State Senator Benjamin B. Downing (D- Pittsfield) announces action by the Massachusetts Senate today advancing measures to ban bullying and update nutritional standards in schools with a pair of bills aimed at promoting a safe, healthy and productive learning environment for all students.
The Senate’s anti-bullying legislation prohibits physical, verbal and written acts that threaten or cause harm to another student, including Internet “cyber-bullying,” while a separate school nutrition bill establishes new standards for fresh food options in school cafeterias and vending machines.
“These two bills working together will make a dramatic difference in our school environment,” said Downing. “We know there’s a strong connection between health and safety and learning. By striking out fear and improving nutrition, we’re hoping to provide students with a more valuable and rewarding educational experience.”
The anti-bullying bill requires all school districts, charter schools and non-public schools to develop prevention and intervention plans by December 31, 2010 that include procedures for investigating bullying incidents, notifying parents and determining appropriate disciplinary actions.
The bill requires school principals to notify local law enforcement of bullying incidents if there is reason to believe criminal charges may be pursued. It also allows Individualized Education Programs for children with special needs to include provisions that will help them handle and respond to incidents of bullying. The bullying ban extends to all school facilities, school-sponsored functions, school buses and bus stops.
The Senate also passed a bill establishing new nutritional standards in schools to address the problem of childhood obesity in the Commonwealth. Food and beverages in school cafeterias, vending machines and other locations in public schools separate from federal meal programs must be in compliance.
The standards, to be implemented by the 2012-13 school year, will be developed by the Department of Public Health and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and include requirements for the availability of free drinking water, fresh fruits and vegetables, and nutritional information for non-packaged foods. The use of deep fryers is banned.
The regulations do not apply to bake sales, concession stands and other school-sponsored events.
The nutrition bill also requires issues of nutrition and exercise to be included in the educational curriculum, and it establishes a commission to make recommendations related the management of childhood obesity, type 2 diabetes and eating disorders.
As a way to further promote wholesome food options and locally grown products, the bill encourages statewide adoption of the successful “Farm-to-School” program, which creates contracts between local farms and public schools to provide fresh fruits, vegetables and ingredients.
The bill also adds state colleges and universities to the requirement that state agencies or authorities give preferential treatment to local farms when purchasing agricultural products.
Finally, capitalizing on the fresh food trend, the bill requires the study of Boston’s “Chefs in Schools” program, which teaches schools to create healthy, cost-effective meals that kids like to eat, to see how it could be effectively implemented in other school districts.
Both bills now go back to the House of Representatives for further action.