For the past year, Harvard Law students in the Education Law Clinic have travelled back and forth to the Massachusetts State House to lobby state legislators to pass an Act Relative to Safe and Supportive Schools.

On August 13, all that work paid off, when Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick signed the Safe and Supportive Schools provisions into law. In recognition of the link between safe and supportive school environments and the reduction of school violence, the legislature incorporated these provisions into its omnibus Act Relative to the Reduction of Gun Violence.

“Gun violence can be prevented if schools address the needs of all students appropriately and at an early age,” said Susan Cole, director of the Education Law Clinic. “Including the Safe and Supportive provisions in the gun violence law will position Massachusetts to become a national leader in creating innovative and effective approaches to reducing gun violence while simultaneously improving academic success. The Safe and Supportive Schools Framework is the missing piece that schools have been needing.”

“We are so proud of the work our students did this past spring,” said Michael Gregory, assistant clinical professor of law.  “By the time the bill was signed we had 96 confirmed legislative supporters of Safe and Supportive Schools; that’s almost half the members.  Our students played a huge role in generating this level of support.”  The clinic students who advocated for Safe and Supportive Schools this spring were Spencer Churchill ’15, Christina Gilligan ’14, Priyanka Gupta ’15, David Li ’15 and Harrison Polans ’15.  “We are only sorry that the timing of the legislative session means they weren’t here to enjoy the signing with us,” said Gregory.

With the enactment of the Safe and Supportive Schools provisions, Massachusetts becomes a national leader in supporting schools and districts to create the whole-school safe and supportive environments that can serve as the foundation for all students, including those who have endured traumatic experiences, to learn and succeed.

The centerpiece of the new Safe and Supportive Schools law, which will be codified in statute at MGL c. 69, Sec. 1P, is the statewide Safe and Supportive Schools Framework.  Organized according to the six core elements of school operations contained in TLPI’s Flexible Framework, this statewide framework will help schools align the many school climate-related initiatives (anti-bullying, dropout prevention, positive discipline, etc.) that are necessary for creating safe and supportive learning environments.

The Education Law Clinic is part of the Trauma Learning and Policy Initiative (TLPI), a partnership of Harvard Law School and Massachusetts Advocates for Children (MAC).

The next major milestone for safe and supportive schools will come when the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education convenes the newly established statewide Safe and Supportive Schools Commission, which it is required to do within 90 days of the signing of the law.  The Commission will assist with statewide implementation of the law and make recommendations to the legislature, including proposing drafts of further legislation.  For more information about all of the provisions contained in the new safe and supportive schools law, click here.