School cyberbullying law takes effect Jan. 1

A new law aimed at deterring the proliferation of cyberbullying at public schools goes into effect Jan. 1, bolstering educators' ability to tackle the problem head-on.

The law gives school administrators the leverage to suspend or expel students for bullying other students by means of an electronic device such as a mobile phone or on an Internet social networking site like MySpace or Facebook; the law, however, only applies to bullying that occurs during school hours or during a school-related activity.

The new law also incorporates the term "cyberbullying" into the lexicon of the California Education Code, which better equips school and law enforcement officials to educate students and parents on the issue.

California is one of only two states in the U.S., the other being Arkansas, that has passed legislation specifically addressing cyberbullying in its education code, said Assemblyman Ted Lieu (D-El Segundo), who authored the proposed legislation, Assembly Bill 86, signed into law by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Sept. 30.

"We hope that other states copy this law," Lieu said.

"(Cyberbullying) is a growing problem."

Educators and law enforcement officials have taken aggressive steps to address the dilemma of cyberbullying and its potential deadly consequences.

In November, a federal jury, in an unprecedented criminal case, convicted a 49-year-old Missouri mother of misdemeanor computer crimes after she intentionally tormented a 13-year-old girl on MySpace, leading the teen-age girl to believe she was engaged in an online romance with a 16-year-old. The girl, Megan Meier, later killed herself after Lori Drew, posing as the boy, wrote Megan saying, "The world would be a better place without you."

Prosecutors in that case, however, failed to convince a jury to convict Drew of a felony conspiracy charge that could have sent the woman to prison for a maximum of 20 years.

According to i-SAFE, a nonprofit specializing in Internet safety education, 42 percent of children have been bullied while online, and one in four has had it happen more than once.

According to a 2005 study by at UCLA psychology professor Jaana Juvonen, nearly three in four teenagers said they had been bullied online at least once during a 12-month period, and only one in 10 reported the incidents to their parents or other adults. Her research was based on a Web survey of 1,454 participants between the ages of 12 and 17 between August and October 2005.

Juvonen said the new California law may help dispel longstanding acceptance among many that bullying, in any manner, is just a part of growing up and something kids need to learn to deal with.

"This is a very clear message to the community at large that these incidents shouldn't be taken lightly," said Juvonen. "It protects the right for kids to go to school without being fearful of other kids harrassing them or intimidating them."

School districts across the Inland Empire have been taking steps to inform teachers, students and parents of the new law. Some established cyberbullying policies of their own long before Lieu's bill was signed into law.

At the Ontario-Montclair School District, a task force composed of teachers, administrators and classified staff is being created to review the new law and develop a new district policy, said James Kidwell, the district's deputy superintendent of human resources.

In Redlands, officials are considering holding assemblies, sending out letters to parents and including the information in school newspapers, said Jon Best, director of student services for the Redlands Unified School District.

At Beattie Middle School in Highland, assistant principal Chris Ruhm posted a letter on the school's Web site in November informing parents of the forthcoming law.

Some school districts have already taken steps to address the issue.

Last spring, all middle school and high school counselors for the San Bernardino City Unified School District received new curriculum on cyberbullying, which included suggestions for holding group discussions on the dangers of cyberbullying, how to report cyberbullying and basic tips for Internet safety, said Linda Bardere, district spokeswoman.

This year, the district adopted a new program called `Too Good for Violence,' a curriculum addressing bullying, drugs, alcohol and violence, Bardere said.

As with the case of Megan Meier and others in the not-to-distant past, the tragic tales associated with bullying illustrate its potentially deadly consequences.

In October 2004, 15-year-old Pacific High School student and San Bernardino resident Velia Huerta Victorino hung herself in her living room after years of relentless bullying at school. Before she took her life, she left a heartbreaking note for her mother. It read, "Sorry for what I did, but I had to. No one liked me anymore.

All my friends left me because of what some people were saying."

In September 1998, 13-year-old Pasco, Wash., resident Jared High called his father to say goodbye, then fatally shot himself while still on the phone with him. He had been victimized repeatedly and assaulted by bullies at his school.

Jared's mother, Brenda High, founded Bully Police U.S.A., a nonprofit watchdog organization advocating for bullied children.

She's impressed with California's new law, but stressed it may fall short.

Educators, High said, must stress the importance of documenting every bullying incident that occurs on a school campus in order to track problem students and their victims.

"The really good schools are going to have a really good reporting procedure," High said. She said Florida has one of the best mandatory reporting laws on bullying, and the state threatens to pull funding if schools don't comply.

Still, California appears to be off to a really good start, she said.

"The state has done its job by having this law passed, and now the job is up to the educators," she said.

# Stay calm. Plan out what you are going to say to your child's teacher and school administrators. Stay sensitive to your child's feelings and concerns.
# Report the bullying incident as thoroughly and accurately as possible. Listen to your child with an open heart and mind, and let them know they have done the right thing in coming to you with the problem.
# Document everything! Pretend you are a lawyer and put everything in writing. Tape record statements, type them up and have witnesses sign them. Take pictures of injuries and date them accordingly.
# If your child is being bullied online, print hard copies of all the messages. Save all e-mails and instant messages. Build a file.

Source: Bullypolice.org

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