On January 14, 2010, Phoebe Prince, a fifteen-year-old Irish immigrant and student at South Hadley High School, took her own life. While the reasons for Phoebe’s suicide remain unknown, what emerged in the broader media coverage of her death was an allegedly systemic pattern of bullying throughout her high school, a pattern ignored by administrators, faculty, and parents. Phoebe’s enemies attacked her with verbal insults, both in school and electronically outside of school, via Facebook.
Massachusetts officials sprang quickly into action after the media onslaught following Phoebe’s death. Northwestern County District Attorney Elizabeth Scheibel charged five of Phoebe’s classmates with a multitude of crimes stemming from their reported bullying of her, including civil-rights violations with bodily injury, criminal harassment, and stalking. The Massachusetts General Court also acted swiftly, passing what many experts deem the most sweeping and powerful antibullying statute in the nation. The statute creates a broad scope of illegal activities for which students can face punishment, including incidents of cyberbullying that occur outside school walls. Because the statute grants school administrators unique authority, Massachusetts now stands as a model testing ground for the national movement to curb bullying incidents in public schools. . .