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Senator Spilka Votes in Favor of Safe Schools Package

March 11, 2010

Senator Spilka voted on Thursday to advance a pair of bills aimed at promoting a safe, healthy and productive learning environment for all students through banning bullying and updating nutritional standards in schools.

Senate 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.

“Both of these bills will help create a secure, healthy and beneficial school environment,” stated Senator Karen Spilka.  “Kids need to know that the adults in their lives will back them up when they participate in positive behaviors, like healthy eating, and won’t tolerate deplorable behaviors, like bullying.  These bills go a long way towards setting new and important standards for a productive learning setting.

“These two bills working together will make a dramatic difference in our school environment,” Senate President Therese Murray (D-Plymouth) said. “We all know there’s a strong connection between health and safety and learning. By striking out fear and improving nutrition, we’re going 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 anti-bullying legislation passed today provides a framework for schools to adequately address the damaging impacts of bullying in all its forms,” said Senator Robert O’Leary (D-Barnstable), Senate chairman of the Joint Committee on Education. “Equipping teachers, students and parents with more information and education on bullying and outlined steps on how to handle it provides a community solution to a community problem.”

Senator Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton) said: “This is comprehensive, prevention-oriented legislation that will work to end the persistent cycle of bullying we’ve seen in the Commonwealth’s schools for years, leading to tragedies like those in South Hadley, Springfield and too many other communities. Every student deserves to feel safe in their own schools, and this bill is a strong step in that direction.”

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 fact that the current generation of children may have a shorter life expectancy than their parents is simply unacceptable,” said Senator Susan Fargo (D-Lincoln), lead sponsor of the bill. “Families demand and deserve that their children be offered food that is healthy, wholesome and safe. The School Nutrition Bill makes certain that parents have the final word on what children eat at school and makes it a requirement that schools maintain healthy standards in the cafeterias.”

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.

“I applaud the Senate for taking an important step in combating what has become a childhood obesity epidemic in the Commonwealth, and across our nation,” said Sen. Richard T. Moore (D-Uxbridge), Senate chairman of the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing. “By limiting the availability of unhealthy foods and promoting the infusion of locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables, we’re not only curbing bad habits among our children, but improving the general, healthy outlook of wellness in Massachusetts.”

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.

The bill now goes back to the House of Representatives for further action.

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