May 25, 2004

The Honorable Michael E. Busch
Speaker of the House
State House
Annapolis, MD 21401

Dear Mr. Speaker:

In accordance with Article II, Section 17 of the Maryland Constitution, today I have vetoed House Bill 740 - Safe Schools Reporting Act of 2004.

House Bill 740 requires the State Board of Education to require the county boards of education to report incidents of harassment and intimidation. "Harassment and intimidation" is defined as conduct on school property, including verbal conduct that: "(1) creates . . . a hostile educational environment by substantially interfering with a student's benefits, opportunities, or performance, or with a student's physical or psychological well-being and is: (I) motivated by an actual or perceived personal characteristic such as race, national origin, marital status, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion or disability; or (II) threatening or seriously intimidating . . .".

The Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) is tasked by the legislation with creating a standard "victim of harassment or intimidation form", with certain enumerated required information. Each county board must submit summaries of the report forms to MSDE on or before January 31 of each year. Then, MSDE must submit a report to the legislative committees summarizing the information from the report forms filed with the county boards the previous year. This report is to include a description of the harassing or intimidating act, the age of the victim and alleged perpetrator, the allegation of the alleged perpetrator's motive, a description of the investigation and any corrective action by school authorities, and the number of false allegations reported. The bill is to take effect on July 1, 2004, and would remain effective for four years.

Maintaining safe schools throughout Maryland is one of the highest priorities of my Administration. In fact, MSDE has taken significant steps in recent years to reach that goal. In 1999, MSDE promulgated a regulation in the interest of ensuring and promoting an environment safe for learning. The regulation, COMAR 13A.01.04.03, clearly establishes the State policy that "All students in Maryland's Public Schools . . . \[have\] the right to educational environments that are: A. Safe; B. Appropriate for academic achievement; and C. Free from any form of harassment." MSDE has taken significant actions to enforce this regulation. MSDE formed a workgroup to examine strategies to assist the county boards in implementing this regulation. The group is still meeting to discuss reporting and accountability models and prevention programs. Moreover, MSDE currently requires that all incidents of harassment resulting in suspension be reported to MSDE. This data is compiled in MSDE's annual "Suspensions, Expulsions, and Health Related Exclusions Report". Additionally, each county board has an annual safe schools action plan that has been collected by MSDE since 2001. As part of the review of these plans, MSDE provides technical assistance to the county boards related to national and local programs on harassment prevention and response. The workgroup is evaluating this process and may make recommendations to improve it. Simply stated, this bill duplicates existing efforts.

House Bill 740 expands reporting requirement and creates additional bureaucracy for no obvious purpose. It creates another form to be filled out and a report to be generated for MSDE. An additional report, compiling information from the county board reports, must be produced by MSDE for two State legislative committees. The initial "victim of harassment or intimidation forms" will likely have to be filled out by teachers, who are most likely to witness or hear about incidents of harassment and intimidation. Teachers have enough demands on their time without the State imposing new demands. Local school systems already have plans in place to adequately deal with harassment.

There is no doubt that harassment and intimidation occur in Maryland's public schools daily, but these incidents are addressed by very capable teachers and school administrators and the workgroup convened by MSDE. While we all want safe schools, the objectives outlines by House Bill 740 are already being undertaken at the state and local level. Moreover, on April 27, 2004, I signed into law Chapter 222 of the Acts of the General Assembly of 2004 (House Bill 1288 - Education - Positive Behavioral Interventions and Support Program), which promotes a proven method in this State for reducing disciplinary problems - some of which involve incidents of harassment and intimidation.

For the above stated reasons, I have vetoed House Bill 740.

Very truly yours,
Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr.