Legislation passed to combat cyberbullying
And since its leap into the international spotlight in recent years – mostly due to a pandemic of reports of web-based bullying by young people – the prevention and management of cyberbullying has become a cause championed by legislators throughout the U.S.
New York State has joined that very cause.
Governor Andrew Cuomo recently signed into law legislation that will protect students from the ever-growing form of internet harassment.
"We must do all we can to ensure that every child in New York State feels safe in the classroom, and this new law will help our schools create an environment that is conducive to educational success," Cuomo said in a statement. "Under this new law, schools will play an important role – working with families, communities and law enforcement – to prevent harassment, bullying and discrimination, and to support a student's right to learn.”
An expansion of the Dignity for All Students Act, the new law reinforces a school’s response to detrimental statements made on the internet – on or off school grounds. The law mandates that schools must take action when informed of cyberbullying by reporting and investigating the incident.
Schools must keep records of bullying or cyberbullying incidents, as staff members will be required to report any instance of mistreatment to the school principle or superintendent within one day of the occurrence, submitting a written report within three school days.
Students and their parents also have the opportunities to submit reports if they become aware of cyberbullying. The principal or superintendent of the school must investigate all reports, and law enforcement must be contacted if any occurrence includes the potential for criminal activity.
Although some state leaders pushed for legislation in which cyberbullying would be considered a crime, the law has yet to reach that point.
However, according to a 2011 survey of nearly 10,000 New York students from 45 counties conducted by state senators and IDC members, 70 percent think cyberbullying should be a crime. Of those surveyed, 68 percent said they had either witnessed or been victimized by cyberbullying.
And less than 1 in 5 of the 68 percent had reported the incident, because, according to the survey, they were either too scared, embarrassed, or intimidated to do so.
But under the new law, reporting cyberbullying is as essential as it is ethical, which is why Assemblyman Dennis Gabryszak (D-143) sponsored the legislation. Gabryszak says that cyberbullying and its harmful effects are relatively new to our society, which is why it was imperative to enforce legislation to help stop the problem.
“As society changes and the ways of communicating change, I thought we really needed to provide a good, safe environment for kids in school and the classrooms,” he said. “It’s no longer OK to turn the other cheek because oftentimes you see when someone is bullied or harassed in a manner like this it has some very dire consequences. I’m glad that the governor signed the legislation.”
Not only does the legislation call for the reporting and investigating of cyberbullying, it requires that students and school staff members be educated on the issue through new paths of prevention and improved training.
Schools will be required to establish official guidelines to be released annually for age-appropriate responses to bullying, with detailed procedural instruction on how parents and students can report incidents to school administrators.
School staff members, old and new, will also be required to participate in comprehensive training on the social patterns of bullying and discrimination. And both students and teachers will receive instruction through bullying education classes.
The new law is intended to appropriately handle cyberbullying as it occurs and to subsequently prevent it from occurring. It goes into effect July 1, 2013.
And Assemblyman Gabryszak, for one, looks forward to the law’s effect on bettering school environments for students.
“Hopefully it's going to stop someone thinking of using electronic means to bully someone,” Gabryszak said. “And hopefully, in some way, the students will be able to come to greater understanding of their fellow students. There may be differences, but I would just hope there would be some greater understanding of the differences between students and make it much more friendly environment.”