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AG Healey reminds Mass. schools of ‘legal obligation’ to address incidents of hate and bias

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey.
Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey.Steven Senne/Associated Press

In an effort to curb hate and bias in schools, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey sent a guidance to school leaders statewide on Tuesday to remind them of their “legal obligation” to prevent and address such incidents.

“We want to make sure schools have the information and support they need to address and prevent incidents of hate and bias and ensure that every student can learn in a nurturing and welcoming environment, free from bullying and harassment,” Healey said in a statement announcing the guidance, which was sent to superintendents, charter school leaders, and school administrators.

The guidance outlines schools' legal obligations under Massachusetts’ antibullying and antidiscrimination laws, provides examples of best practices for creating a “positive school climate,” and outlines education, prevention, and remediation measures, among other resources.

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The seven-page document breaks down the difference between bullying and harassment, which it identifies as “similar, but not identical, types of misconduct.” It reminds school leaders that when they are notified of any incident of bullying or harassment, they have a legal responsibility to investigate and respond to it.

Schools are also expected to address bullying or harassment that occurs outside of school if it “has a serious carry-over effect on the victim at school,” the guidance states.

When a school confirms that an incident has occurred, leaders “must take appropriate remedial action to end the harassment, prevent it from recurring, and eliminate the intimidating or hostile environment,” including policy adjustments and other systemic changes, when needed, the guidance states.

Healey said she commends “our school leaders, teachers, and staff across the state who have been on the front lines of providing essential educational and social-emotional services during this time of uncertainty and distress amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and as we’re all grappling with racial injustice and its negative effects on individuals and society as whole.”

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In announcing the guidance Tuesday, Healey’s office included statements of support from several education leaders, including state Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley; Thomas Scott, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents; Tim Nicolette, executive director of the Massachusetts Charter Public School Association; and Beth Kontos, president of the American Federation of Teachers Massachusetts.

Tanisha M. Sullivan, president of the Boston branch of the NAACP, said she appreciates that Healey’s guidance encourages schools to “promote equity” in their practices.

“All students, no matter their race, ethnicity, or other identities, need to feel safe, supported, valued, and respected at school, and we have laws and regulations in place to ensure that they do,” she wrote in a statement. “Now more than ever, it is a commitment and a cause we must face head on.”



Felicia Gans can be reached at felicia.gans@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @FeliciaGans.