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Governor signs cyberbullying bill

Photo from YouTube
Jamey Rodemeyer's YouTube message

Governor Andrew Cuomo  signed Monday legislation that defines cyber-bullying in New York State. 

The bill, sponsored by members of the WNY delegation, was crafted following the suicide of Williamsville teenager Jamey Rodemeyer last September. 

"Cyber bullying is a 21st century problem that is still being addressed with statutes from the 20th century. It is so critical to revise our approach to this issue, and this new law will help crack down on this serious problem facing our youth. I applaud Governor Cuomo for signing this important legislation into law," said state Senator Michael Ranzenhofer of Amherst. 

The law defines cyberbullying as repeated harassment, insults, taunting, and threats by text message, web posting or e-mail and mandates school districts come up with a protocol to deal with it.  It does not, however, dictate criminal charges.  

"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," Governor Cuomo said. "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. I commend Majority Leader Skelos, Speaker Silver, the bill sponsors, and the many advocates who worked hard in helping put this comprehensive bill together."

Senate Majority Leader Dean G. Skelos said, "The law signed today tackles many of the challenges currently facing schools and families seeking to put an end to cyberbullying. I commend Senators Saland and Ranzenhofer, Governor Cuomo and the Assembly for coming together to enact legislation that addresses this very complex problem, helps protect our students' emotional well-being, and ensures safe learning environments."

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said, "Threats, intimidation, and abuse have no place in our schools. I commend the Governor for signing this bill into law and further empowering school districts to address harmful and hostile acts both on and off school grounds."

In 2009, more than 7 million U.S. students ages 12-18 – representing 28 percent of all students in that age range – were bullied at school and more than 1.5 million students -- 6 percent – were subject to cyberbullying on or off school property. A 2011 survey of New York high school students revealed that, during the previous year, nearly 18 percent had been bullied on school property and 16 percent had experienced cyberbullying through e-mail, chat rooms, instant messaging, Web sites, texting or other electronic means.

The new law cracks down on cyberbullying through the following provisions:

Requires Schools to Act When Cyberbullying Occurs

The law requires that schools act in cases of cyberbullying, which may occur on or off campus, when it creates or would create a substantial risk to the school environment, substantially interferes with a student’s educational performance or mental, emotional or physical well-being, or causes a student to fear for his or her physical safety.

Ensures Proper Protocols Are in Place to Deal with Cyberbullying

The law requires school districts to put in place protocols to deal with cyberbullying, harassment, bullying and discrimination, including assignment of a school official to receive and investigate reports; prompt reporting and investigation; responsive actions to prevent recurrence of any verified bullying; coordination with law enforcement when appropriate; development of a bullying prevention strategy; and notice to all school community members of the school’s policies.

Sets Training Requirements For School Employees to Help Identify and Prevent Cyberbullying

The law sets training requirements for current school employees, as well as for new teachers and administrators applying for a certificate or license, on the identification and mitigation of harassment, bullying, cyberbullying and discrimination.

The new law goes into effect on July 1, 2013.

Mark Wozniak, WBFO's local All Things Considered host, has been at WBFO since mid-1978.