Governor Andrew Cuomo signed an anti-cyberbullying bill into law on Monday that requires schools to be more vigilant about the online harassment of students, and to take steps to prevent it.
Schools will now have to set up protocols to make it easier for students and their parents to report online harassment, and devise ways to stop bullies from being repeat offenders. School districts will have to develop bullying prevention plans and publicize them.
The law was passed by the legislature at the end of the legislative session in June.
“It's amazing to me the power of the negativity and how it can hurt a young person,” Cuomo said.
The new law is an amendment to the Dignity for All Students law approved in 2010 by then Governor David Paterson. Paterson, the state’s first legally blind governor, said he was bullied at school as a child.
Jay Worona, general counsel for the New York State School Boards Association, says schools welcome both laws, and hope they help to change a culture that or too long did not react to bullying.
“Our schools for some time have been trying to ensure that are children are safe,” Worona said. “They didn’t necessarily need a law to tell them what we are sadly seeing on the front pages of our newspapers.”
Research has shown links between cyberbullying and low self esteem, academic problems, depression and, in some highly publicized cases, suicide. It includes harassing text messages, and social media and web postings.
Worona says it’s a far more insidious form of bullying than the days of the school yard bully, which he says was in some ways, more straight forward to deal with.
“It’s anonymous,” said Worona, “and kids have a way of being extremely devious.”
The new law stops short, though, of making cyber bullying an actual crime. Many forms of harassment associated with cyber bullying are already covered under existing law.
Schools are required under the new law to work with police if they think existing laws against harassment may have been broken. Worona says the school’s jurisdiction is limited in many cases to incidences that occur on school property, and he says case law is developing as more efforts are made to crack down on cyber bullying.
The changes are required to be in place by July 2013, and will take effect the following school year.