Bedford schools became the latest district to develop and approve policies addressing cyberbullying earlier this month.
The Bedford school board approved a policy on bullying and cyberbullying during its last meeting on June 16. The policy covers any intentional activity that is unwelcome and involves repetitive physical contact, personal communication or electronic exchanges.
The plan covers any activity that takes place on school property, at any school-sponsored function or on a school bus. Activities that take place off school grounds but interfere with a student's ability to function in school are also included in the policy.
Anyone who is found to be in violation of the district's cyberbullying policy will be disciplined by the school district or by law enforcement agencies, depending on the severity of the case.
"On the bullying, we have felt confident all along that our standard code of conduct and common sense in managing situations allowed us to address bullying of any variety including cyberbullying," said Jere Hochman, superintendent of Bedford schools. "In addition, we have been overt in our expectations of adults regarding every person's responsibility to react and report and not to be a bystander."
Cyberbullying happens when the Internet, cell phones or other electronic devices are used to send or post text and images to hurt or embarrass another person. Almost half of all teenagers in this country have been affected by cyberbullying, according to the National Crime Prevention Council.
On Tuesday, the state Senate followed the Assembly's lead in passing the Dignity For All Students Act. Although the bill doesn't specifically address cyberbullying, it does changes the state education law to protect public school students from extreme and constant bullying based on race, color, national origin, ethnicity, religion, religious practice, weight, disability, sexual orientation, gender or sex.
Governor David Patterson is also pushing a bill that would mandate that school officials post a special anti-bullying hotline and the New York City Department of Education is also working on a policy that would ban cyberbullying and sexting, the sending of sexually explicit text messages.
The Bedford school district's policy also calls for annual instruction for staff and students on bullying prevention.
"It is the responsibility of all staff members to take reasonable measures to prevent bullying and cyberbullying and shall report any such acts," the policy reads. "It is also the responsibility of students who observe any acts of bullying or cyberbullying to school authorities. Failure to do so may result in disciplinary action."
"All staff are trained in mandatory reporting of situations that reach the mandatory child protection services reporting threshold and all staff are expected to read and sign our district boundaries list of responsibilities and common sense 'do's and don'ts'," Hochman said.
Sameer Hinduja, co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center and associate professor of criminal justice at Florida Atlantic University, believes that government and school officials are doing a good job of acknowledging the dangers of cyberbullying.
"I'm encouraged by the work school districts are doing to address this issue," Hinduja said. "Bear in mind that many kids aren't going to be discouraged by prohibition, so many school are doing more in the way of programming. They're holding assemblies for kids and hosting peer mentoring programs that warn kids of the dangers of posting information online."