NYS school cyberbullying rules become law

A survey released by state Sen. Jeffrey Klein

A survey released by state Sen. Jeffrey Klein (D-Bronx, Westchester) found that 10,000 New York students say that cyberbullying occurs often and should be illegal. (Credit: Newsday.com)

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed into law Monday new rules designed to protect children against cyberbullying.

The law, taking effect next year, will require school officials to investigate complaints of bullying that happen online and to respond in ways to prevent acts of bullying from recurring.

"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," Cuomo said in a news release.

Teachers and administrators will have to undergo training to recognize cyberbullying cases.

According to the governor's office, 16 percent of New York high school students reported in 2011 that they had been bullied through email, chat rooms, instant messaging, websites or texting in the previous year.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention refer to these interactions as "electronic aggression" and warns that they can lead to emotional distress, behavioral problems and physical violence.

The new law will augment the Dignity for All Students Act of 2010, which took effect on July 1. That law requires school districts to create policies to recognize and respond to harassment, bullying and discrimination, but it doesn't specifically include online activities.

Jay Worona, general counsel of the State School Boards Association, said the association is supportive, even though districts established broad harassment procedures under the 2010 law.

"We're hoping that this is going to place all of our students and their parents in a position of feeling safer," Worona said. "We hope and pray we don't read newspaper articles where children have committed suicide."

Still to be tested is how the new law will interact with federal privacy laws, because incidents are likely to take place in private on computers or smartphones and may be beyond the reach of districts' authority.

"This will lead to us having to work . . . with law enforcement officials more often," Worona said.

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