New York Law Describes Cyberbullying As Form of Harassment

A new amendment to New York’s Dignity for All Students Act requires schools to address electronic harassment and bullying, including events that occur off school grounds and when school is not in session.

The Dignity for All Students Act, which was signed into law in 2010, was amended in July to add cyberbullying via any form of electronic communication as a form of harassment covered under the law. The amendment also covers a cyberthreat, intimidation or abuse that “occurs off school property that creates or would foreseeably create a risk of substantial disruption within the school environment.”

The new amendment gives schools the authority to follow through with discipline for harassment or intimidation that can interfere with a child’s education, according to Barbara O’Brien of Buffalo News.

Administrators will monitor offensive content on Facebook, Twitter and other social media. They will talk to the students and contact parents to ask them to remove the offending posts and educate them about appropriate uses.

The law requires all school employees who witness or hear of bullying or discrimination to report it to a designated administrator or staff member. The school must take prompt action to end the activity and eliminate the hostile environment, as well as contact police if it is believed the activity rises to the level of criminal conduct.

Iroquois Superintendent Douglas Scofield said that “everyone should feel comfortable and secure at school.” According to Scofield, his school district is working with the individual students and families to find the root cause of the problem.

The district wants to change the culture so everyone knows what inappropriate behavior is. Scofield noted that complaints investigated by his school district have run the gamut from simple name-calling to threats.

“They haven’t developed the understanding of how hurtful words can be,” Scofield said of students. “Sometimes they use words very inappropriately.”

The federal government launched StopBullying.gov website, which is managed by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. According to the federal website, “students who are bullied may have a higher risk of depression and anxiety that can follow them into adulthood. They also may be more likely to miss or drop out of school, and in 12 of 15 school shootings in the 1990s, the shooters had been bullied.”

Schools have been revising codes of conduct to address bullying with updates based on state law amendments. School staff will also be trained to take and handle complaints of harassment, and parents will find revised codes of conduct on the schools’ websites.

Also, schools will publish on their websites the names of coordinators who are trained to take and handle complaints of harassment or intimidation based on race, color, weight, national origin, ethnic group, religion, religious practice, disability, sexual orientation or gender.

Reports come from students and parents to teachers and staff members through conversations, phone calls and emails. Some students take advantage of “bully boxes,” secure boxes where notes about incidents can be placed. Some districts, such as Hamburg, also take complaints anonymously on their websites. Users are reminded that filing a false report is against the law.