Anti-Bullying Bills Pass State Senate, City Council

The meek, the relentlessly picked on, and the emotionally tormented are breathing a sigh of relief as bullies will now have lesser recourse for abusing their victims, both online, and on school grounds, thanks to comprehensive anti-bullying legislation passed by the New York State Senate and City Council.

Cyber-bullying legislation sponsored by Lew Fidler was signed into law this week by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, while, up in Albany, State Senator Marty Golden managed to push a bill through the State Senate. Both bills target bullying – online and off – through schools.

Fidler’s law directs the Human Rights Commission – an agency where the City Council does exercise power – to design a new anti-cyber-bullying curriculum along with the Department of Education. That curriculum would teach kids about the dangers and potential consequences of online harassment, spurred on by cases such as Tyler Clementi, a gay Rutgers University student who committed suicide after his roommate outed him online. (Watch Fidler discuss the bill at Tuesday’s Sheepshead Bay / Plumb Beach Civic Association meeting above.)

“[Teachers] must teach kids right and wrong for how to use computers. Cyber-bullying is probably worse than old-fashioned bullying, because in a moment’s impulse you can communicate with thousands of people and have a life-long impact on those kids,” Fidler said at a recent civic meeting. “With thousands and thousands of teachers in classrooms with thousands and thousands of kids, that would be the best way to do it.”

As we reported in November 2010, Fidler’s bill took a unique approach of going around the mayor to the Human Rights Commission, as mayoral control of schools bars the City Council from directing the Department of Education to develop curriculum.

Sponsored by Senator Martin Golden, bill S.4921 would “help prevent cyber-bullying as well as conventional bullying on school grounds,” which, the pol said, will create safer learning environments for children. The “Law To Encourage the Acceptance of All Differences,” or LEAD, is designed to protect students of all ages, regardless of the motivation behind the bullying, defined by LEAD as:

“…the severe and repeated use by one or more students or school employees of a written, verbal or electronic form, or a physical act or gesture directed at a student that caused physical injury, emotional harm or damage to a student’s property; placed the student in a reasonable fear of harm to himself/herself; creating a hostile environment at school; substantially disrupting the educational process or the orderly operation of a school.”
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In a study funded by the United States Department of Justice, the National Crime Prevention Council reports that cyber-bullying is at an all-time high. Forty-three percent of teenagers reported being victims of cyber-bullying.  The vast majority of teens knew their bully, however, only 10 percent of those cyber-bullying victims told their parents or other adults.
Statistics show that efforts are working in states where bullying prevention is taught in schools. According to the National Youth Violence Prevention Resource Center, bullying can be reduced by up to 50 percent when there is a school-wide commitment to preventative and educational programs focused on bullying.

According to the bill, which has already been sent to the Assembly, teachers in New York would be required by law to not only report incidents of bullying to principals and superintendents, but would also be mandated to add bullying to a list of incidents for which a student can be disciplined. Additionally, school districts would be required to create policies and guidelines to help bring about further awareness of bullying, and strict recourse to prevent it. Bullying prevention courses of learning would also be obligatory for teachers and students alike, in order to combat the problem, which has led to devastating tragedies in the past.

“Bullying knows no time or age limit but the legislation we passed,” says Golden, “…will make a difference in the negative effects it has on our children.  The defining of cyber bullying is a big step in making this new phenomenon less powerful.”

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