Delaware State Senate passes Cyberbullying bill
Published: Tuesday, May 15, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, May 15, 2012 05:05
The Delaware State Senate passed a bill in April that will lead to the creation of a statewide policy on cyberbullying.
According to a press release from Attorney General Beau Biden (D-Del.), Senate Bill 193 will mandate the Department of Justice and Department of Education work together to determine a set of policies regarding cyberbullying between public school students.
“Thanks to constant communication and social networking, there is no such thing as a ‘schoolyard bully’ anymore,” Biden said. “Kids who face bullies face them all the time–at home, at school and everywhere in between.”
The bill seeks to unify the state school districts’ existing policies, according to Biden. The alignment will allow the Department of Justice to better defend school districts’ rights to discipline students who engage in cyberbullying.
“For schools to be the safe places that children deserve, they must be able to effectively fight bullying that may originate off school grounds, but follows its victims 24 hours a day,” Biden said.
STOP Cyberbullying, an awareness group that educates children about the dangers of the Internet, defines cyberbullying as “when a child, preteen or teen is tormented, threatened, harassed, humiliated, embarrassed or otherwise targeted by another child, preteen or teen using the Internet, interactive and digital technologies or mobile phones.” According to the organization’s website, cyberbullying has been linked to physical violence as well as teen suicide.
Delaware is one of 35 states that have legislation on cyberbullying. Delaware’s law, known as the School Bullying Prevention Act, requires all public and charter schools in the state to establish a policy on bullying prevention. The act, passed in 2007, includes electronic forms of bullying.
Newark Sen. David Sokola (D-Del.) introduced the bill to the Senate’s Education Committee April 3. It left the committee on April 25 and passed in the Senate the next day. He said Bill 193 will give Biden’s office legal precedent to begin the policy changing process.
“A lot of the kinds of controls that have worked in other media haven’t been as effective in the online world because of instantaneous and permanent nature, but we know some things have worked,” Sokola said. “And we can’t give up, we need to look at what’s being done to successfully curb cyberbullying elsewhere and use it here.”
Biden said his campaign to change cyberbullying laws will implement four steps, the first of which involved statewide public hearings last month to gather evidence about the disruption cyberbullying causes. School administrators and parents were questioned about the off-campus activity that led to incidents involving children. The hearings, held in every state county, were open to anyone willing to testify.
Biden said the next steps involve the Department of Justice and the Department of Education drafting a policy based on the evidence they acquired during the hearings. The Department of Education will then issue a regulation that requires all public and charter schools to adopt the state’s policy.
Biden and his office will then help to enact legislation that gives the Department of Justice the ability to defend schools in court that use the statewide policy.
Camilla Conlon, a board member for 14 years at Cape Henlopen, a public school district in southern Delaware, said it is difficult for the board members to create effective policy when it comes to cyberbullying.
She said her school district has a discipline dean on staff, which does not actively research the cyberbullying taking place online, but investigates claims if the situation manifests itself in an altercation at school.
“Most of the fights that happen at school happen in the morning when kids get off the bus,” Conlon said. “These are things that have been building up in the community all night. It is not really a fair statement about the atmosphere of Cape.”
She said the nature of cyberbullying is more vicious than traditional bullying. She said cyberbullying is particularly dangerous because the internet allows the bullies to torment their targets at all hours. She said victims of bullying are often unable to get the help they need until the situation becomes violent.
“There is a lot of stuff taking place between the hours of 4 p.m. and 7 a.m. when the students aren’t in school,” Conlon said. “We are trying to make a policy that lets students know they still need to act as students when they are out of school.”
Wendy Lapham, manager of public information for the Christina school district, said the staff in her schools has not noticed many problems with cyberbullying, but she understands the need for a comprehensive policy. She said the school computers have blocked certain websites.