Target 12

Target 12 investigation prompts legislation to give bullying law teeth

CRANSTON, R.I. (WPRI) — Proposed legislation would punish school districts with financial penalties starting later this year if they fail to comply with the state's bullying law that was passed nearly a decade ago.

Rep. Charlene Lima, D-Cranston, submitted the legislation Tuesday, the day after Target 12 revealed widespread noncompliance with the 2011 law that outlined the state's bullying policy known as the Safe School Act.

The law requires each district's bullying policy to be "posted prominently" on their respective homepages.

"Easy to get to. Easy to understand," Lima said. "I found it alarming that we pass a bill that's so important on bullying and they're not following the law."

Target 12 checked every district's website multiple times and we could not find a single reference to bullying on eleven of them.

Other districts included their policies and, in some cases, the reporting form somewhere on their sites but accessing the information was multiple clicks away from their homepages.

"It's about making this easy for us to get to," Lima added. "This is unacceptable."

When we checked, West Warwick was the only district with the policy on its homepage but some might suggest its placement on the left side with a number of other links was not "prominent."

Interactive: Find out if your school district has complied with the policy »

Lima's proposed legislation gives districts until October 1 to comply with the law. After that, the state would fine the district by cutting $500 from their state funding.

The penalty goes up to $1,500 for any districts not in compliance by January 1, 2020.

Target 12 also discovered what appeared to be a lack of uniformity to a Safe School Act requirement that every school sends "summary reports" to their district superintendent twice every school year.

Target 12 requested the last two years of reports from every district but the response was mixed.

In an email, Tiverton Superintendent Peter Sanchioni wrote, "No such information exists relative to your request."

Westerly offered a similar response in an email, with the superintendent's executive assistant saying, "there are no summary reports."

New Shoreham's superintendent said, "Block Island School has had no incident of bullying" during the two years of requested data.

Lima acknowledged it is late in the session to pitch legislation but said her proposed change in the 2011 law is important enough to move through the current session quickly.

Rep. Deborah Ruggiero, D-Jamestown, who sponsored and helped craft the original bullying law, said she is also considering legislation to strengthen the measure.

Send tips to Target 12 Investigator Walt Buteau at wbuteau@wpri.com and follow him on Twitter @wbuteau.


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