Sticks and stones may break bones, but words may cost you a $2,500 fine. In an attempt to curb cyber-bullying, the state of Pennsylvania has made cyber-harassment of a child a third-degree misdemeanor punishable by a fine and possible jail time.
While bullying is nothing new, technology has made it easier for kids to be inundated with harassment thanks to cellphones and social media. No longer can students feel relief after leaving the school yard, as kids can be harassed on a constant basis — and it get much worse after they leave school, writes Jessica Schladebeck for The York Dispatch via Government Technology.
Cyber-harassment, as defined by Act 26, is making malicious statements about a child’s physical characteristics, sexuality, sexual activity or mental or physical health. Cyber-harassment could be made electronically, either directly to the child or through a social media site.
Due to the growing severity of cyber-bullying, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf has signed Act 26 to help curb the problem. The Act will go into effect in September.
The bill has been in the works for the past three years, with State Representative Ron Marsico serving as the bill’s primary sponsor, writes Michaelle Bond for Philly.
The bill is a response to complaints received by state representatives from parents, students and teachers who have felt the need for a stringent law to safeguard kids.
“We hope to put a stop to it by bringing attention to the citizens of Pennsylvania that this is a serious crime and a punishable offense,” Marsico said.
Schools are doing their part by implementing rules and programs to make students aware that their actions have consequences. Anti-bullying lessons have been incorporated into the curriculum and some districts have implemented an incentive program. Students receive fake money that can be used to buy prizes at the school store when they demonstrate moral behavior.
Mary Steffey, board president of Agora Cyber Charter School, commended Governor Wolf for signing the bill. Many of the 10,000 students who are enrolled in the online charter have done so to escape bullying that they received in traditional schools, and because of that, Steffey says the school is vigilant about cyber-bullying, according to a letter she wrote to the York Dispatch.
“Students and adults alike must be taught that harassing someone in the digital age based on how they look, feel or act is wrong; and now with the passing of this bill there can be serious consequences for their actions. For some students this type of intense bullying can cause serious emotional stress, anxiety and in the worst cases, lead to a child taking their own life.”