New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo signed a bill that would place more responsibility in the hands of school employees to monitor and prevent incidents of cyberbullying. The initial legislative effort behind the law came about as a result of a suicide of a Williamsville North freshman last September who frequently wrote about the internet bullying he was enduring because he was homosexual. At the time, law enforcement agencies said that they couldn't act against the perpetrators because of the lack of clarity in the state law dealing with bullying over the internet.
Although the legislation will it easier for schools to handle similar incidents, some lawmakers and advocates felt it didn't go far enough. The final version of the bill didn't include the component that would have laid out the kinds of penalties those who harass others over text, email and social networks could expect to receive.
"This is a very good step,'' said Sen. Michael Ranzenhofer, an Amherst Republican who sponsored legislation that stalled in the Assembly to impose criminal penalties, including jail time, for cyberbullying.
But, the lawmaker added, "I think at some point in time we will need to define this in such a way that says to society, whether adults or young adults, that this activity is criminal in nature.
The law expands the definition of cyberbullying to explicitly include incidents that take place off campus, and allows schools to discipline students even when harassment takes place outside the building as long as it takes place over some kind of digital medium. Although the New York Education Department doesn't have a policy that deals with bullying, schools in the state have been tracking and reporting incidents of traditional bullying for the last two years. Some schools already had their own policy dealing with internet harassment.
The law creates a system for reports of cyberbullying to reach school principals or superintendents – and requires schools to take "prompt action'' to intervene to end the harassment of a student. It also requires schools to devise specific anti-cyberbullying policies. It requires schools to report to law enforcement incidents of cyberbullying if school officials believe the acts "constitute criminal conduct.''
The law notes cyberbullying can include harassment or discrimination targeting a student's religion, sexual orientation, weight, race, color and gender. It also calls for new training for teachers and administrators to help them better identify instances of cyberbullying.
With the law going into effect, any attacks on students' religion, sexual orientation, appearance, race, or gender that can cause either physical injury or emotional harm will now fall under the broadened definition of bullying.