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Child safety advocates call for anti-cyberbullying laws

Members of the West Babylon High School girls

Members of the West Babylon High School girls soccer team head to the funeral for 17-year-old Alexis Pilkington on Thursday, March 25, 2010, in Babylon. Credit: AP

Child safety advocates called for anti-bullying legislation - New York is one of 11 states without any laws on cyberbullying - as well as education for parents at a Melville conference on the topic Friday.

The issue of cyberbullying has been pushed to the forefront by the tragic suicide of Alexis Pilkington, 17, of West Islip, and cruel cyber-postings made about her both before and after her death, conference participants said.

"The tragedy in West Islip - though we don't really know the cause of the suicide - I think what it brought today was the immediacy of the problem," said Alane Fagin, executive director of Child Abuse Prevention Services, based in Roslyn. "This is a problem schools are dealing with and legislators are dealing with."

Experts at the conference noted children and young adults are grappling with cyberbullying and sexting, both of which are on the rise. The conference, scheduled long ago, came just days after allegations that online bullying on a social networking Web site contributed to Pilkington's death. Her family and friends have said that while the nasty comments deepened their pain, they had nothing to do with her death.

The conference on Keeping Kids Safe from Bullying and Cyberbullying attracted educators and administrators from Long Island school districts, and legislators, community leaders and prosecutors from both counties.

Suffolk County Legis. DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville), who attended the breakfast symposium, said he would take the issue to the county's legislative counsel.

"We are going to be looking to address this in whatever way we can," Gregory said.

State Sen. Craig Johnson (D-Port Washington), who sent a representative, will "take a better look at legislation that is out there as well as legislation passed in other states to see if we can come up with a solution that makes sense for New York," said spokesman Rich Azzopardi.

In California, state law prohibits cyberbullying directed specifically toward a student or school personnel, but only as relating to school activities or attendance. In Arkansas, state law specifically prohibits off-campus cyberbullying. In Minnesota, state law requires that each school board adopt a written policy prohibiting cyberbullying.

Anne Donnelly, Nassau district attorney deputy bureau chief of the economic crimes bureau who also speaks to schools and organizations regarding cyberbullying, said legislation is needed to address sexting, such as when minors send naked pictures of themselves via cell phones.

Surveys have shown that sexting is on the rise, with 22 percent of girls between 13 and 16, and 18 percent of boys in the same age group, having electronically sent or posted nude or seminude photos of themselves.

"Education, education, education - that is the answer," Donnelly said. "We have educated our children about the dangers of smoking, of using drugs and alcohol. Yet they can pick up their cell phone every morning and text friends before they get on the school bus."

For Dan Marquardt, principal of West Islip's Udall Road Middle School, the message hit close to home.

"We are working very hard at West Islip to educate our students about the dangers the Internet can pose to the rest of their lives," he said.

With Sophia Chang


Weighing in on the cyberbullying issue



DuWayne Gregory Suffolk Legislator, D-Amityville)


The number one issue is education: How do we not only educate our parents, but how do we as parents educate our children on what can happen to them?"


Audrey Goropeuschek, Long Beach Middle School Principal


I think there is the greatest generational gulf existing now between parents and children in terms of parents not understanding the technology the children are using and being intimidated by it, and parents need to realize there is a big difference between a locked diary in a child's night table . . . and something a child is sending to an unbelievable number of people."


Alane Fagin Executive director, of Child Abuse Prevention Services


There is an immediacy. This is an issue that affects so many kids. There has been a lot of research done . . . showing that 90 percent of our kids are connected digitally. We have to address these issue and as adults this is the new frontier for us."


Daniel Marquardt, Principal of Udall Road Middle School, West Islip


Children spend more time online than they doing watching television and it is important for parents to monitor that online use just as they would with programs children watch on television."


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