TRENTON – Senator Barbara Buono announced today the introduction of a bill that would expand the current definition of “bullying” among school-aged children to include electronic communications, such as instant messaging and text messaging.
“The near anonymous nature of the Internet and cell phones have lent themselves to providing bullies with another means to harass their victims,” said Senator Buono, D-Middlesex. “In fact, electronic communications are empowering a whole new wave of bullies as it is much easier to type a message and press ‘send’ than it is to walk up to someone and say the same thing. It may not seem as serious as physical or verbal bullying, but the effects can be even broader and ultimately more harmful.”
Senator Buono’s bill, S-2222, amends the definition of bullying to include electronic communications, also commonly known as cyberbullying. Currently, the law limits bullying to gesture and written, verbal or physical acts that take place on school property, at a school function or on a school bus.
Senator Buono was the sponsor of legislation enacted in September 2002 that originally defined bullying and required schools to implement a course of action to address it. Each school was also required to develop disciplinary procedures to deal with bullies. Those procedures can include parental notification, detention, suspension or, in severe cases, expulsion.
“Parents are usually concerned about the threats that sexual predators and con artists pose for their children while on-line, and rightly so. But many parents don’t realize how much harm children can do to their peers. E-mails, IMs, and digital photos can be easily forwarded onto other individuals and an impulsive message to one person can quickly turn into a traumatic schoolwide incident that cannot be easily fixed,” added Senator Buono.
Senator Buono was inspired to introduce the legislation after reading recent media reports that detailed the actual consequences that electronic bullying and harassment have had upon schools and their students. Those reports noted that just like offline bullying, online bullying can cause to psychological and emotional harm and possibly lead to violence, yet hasn’t received as much attention physical and verbal intimidation, even after one teenager in Vermont committed suicide after months of online bullying.
Senator Buono also noted that she hopes schools will add cyberbullying to their current anti-bullying efforts and take special care to work with parents to educate students about the proper use of electronic communications.
“We need to take on-line bullying and harassment just as seriously as any other type of bullying and we need to be more vigilant in detecting it because it is not in the open,” added Senator Buono. “Parents need to constantly monitor their children’s activity online and regularly discuss with them the proper etiquette while online and the very real consequences that can come from sending messages while angry or upset.”
The bill now awaits consideration by the Senate Education Committee.