Updated, July 10
Gov. Cuomo signed into law legislation he said will help protect students from cyberbullying as well as other forms of harassment.
"We must do all we can to ensure that every child in New York State feels safe in the classroom, and this new law will help our schools create an environment that is conducive to educational success," Gov. Cuomo said. "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."
Read the full press release here.
The law goes into effect on July 1, 2013.
First story, June 29
The passage last week of an amendment to the gives school administrators tools to protect students from cyberbullying, granting them the authority to investigate all online and Internet-based harassment, bullying and discrimination.
Local school officials applaud the intent of the legislation—offering protections to students and addressing an increasingly prevalent societal problem—but are cautious about its implementation, citing an expansion of the school's mission outside of school walls.
The measure requires schools to develop policies around cyberbullying and provide education and training to students and staff on bullying prevention—something that Katonah Lewisboro and Bedford Central districts already do. (Click here to read the K-L policy and here for BCSD.)
What's different about the new law is that victims and their parents will now have the ability to report incidents that take place off-property to a school-appointed official, when they deem the cyberbullying impedes a student’s ability to learn.
"We will fall on the side of over-reacting than not," said Jere Hochman, Bedford Central's superintendent. "Holding the school to be the investigator to mete out consequences for out-of-school bullying will cause numerous investigations of issues that are not elevated to the degree the lawmakers seem to intend, as well as numerous school calls to the police."
Paul Kreutzer, superintendent of Katonah-Lewisboro schools, said cyberbullying was a serious problem that needed to be stopped, but the provisions in the new law may become another "unfunded mandate" for districts.
"The question of where the lines are drawn becomes subjective," he said. "We want to have a partnership with students but the the core mission of education becomes more stretched with supervising out of school incidents, and pulls us away from our curricular mission."
Officials say that subjectivity may lead to a varied reaction on whether a school has acted appropriately.
"One person will think that our response and consequence to a confrontation is an under-reaction while another will think the response to the same situation is an over-reaction," said Hochman. "Our stance is, if there is a ‘nexus’ to school, such as a threat that might occur in school, or a hateful statement or text that carries over into school, or infringes on one’s right to attend school—we can make that connection. It appears that the law opens the door to any cyber-bullying of which we are made aware."
Lawmakers say the intent was not to make it more onerous for school districts to handle bullying issues.
"What it does is give school districts the authority to deal with it more effectively," said Assemblyman Robert Castelli (R-Goldens Bridge), who voted in favor of the legislation. "We are asking schools to exercise their good judgement, look into incidents both on and off campus where it affects the child's ability to learn—to do due diligence. And when it elevates to the level of police involvement, make the call."
Castelli, a 22-year veteran of law enforcement, told Patch the law was necessary to address a new form of harassment that happens far too frequently and causes tragic incidents, such as the suicide of former Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi.
More than 30 states have approved measures against cyberbullying, but New York's crackdown would be among the toughest. The New York law stopped short of criminalizing cyberbullying but became one of few states to cover off-grounds behaviors, a measure Fox Lane graduate Sabrina Paulino was pleased to see included.
"I do think it's the school's job to educate students on cyberbullying, and whether it's online or in the hallway, it hurts the same," said Paulino, who last week.
Paulino said that Fox Lane High School does "a great job" in helping students understand bullying and what to do if they find themselves victims.