Local Pols Pursue Cyber-Bullying Legislation

Photo by Adam Clarke via Flickr

By Joe Maniscalco

State Senator Carl Kruger and Councilman Lew Fidler are seeking to stem the tide of cyber-bullies through a pair of proposals at the state and city level.

Heightened awareness about the dangers of cyber-bullying and the death of an 18-year-old Rutgers University student in September have convinced Fidler that New York City schools need a new curriculum to prevent similar tragedies from occurring here. But to do that, the local rep just might have to butt heads with the man some might call New York City’s biggest bully – Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Mayoral control of schools precludes the New York City Council from simply directing the Department of Education to craft a new curriculum that effectively addresses cyber-bullying, as Fidler advocates. So the councilman is instead attempting an end-run around the mayor that would direct 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.

“We have graphic examples like what happened at Rutgers, and I am quite sure there are hundreds of kids like that suffering in silence,” Fidler said.

Rutgers student Tyler Clementi committed suicide in September after being outed online.

Fidler hopes the new legislation – introduced two weeks ago and affecting grades K through 12 – will be approved sometime next month so that the new curriculum can be implemented in time for the start of classes next year. He isn’t anticipating opposition from Bloomberg, but admits that the issue of mayoral control has become a hurdle in an effort that otherwise enjoys widespread support.

“I haven’t heard of any opposition,” said Fidler, who chairs the Youth Service Committee. “But the process was the tough part here.”

The Mayor’s Office is refusing to talk about the new proposal until a hearing on the measure is held.

“I think he’ll (Bloomberg) be okay with it,” Fidler said. “I just hope he doesn’t get hung up on the process.”

State Senator Carl Kruger doesn’t have to worry about Bloomberg’s sensitivities up in Albany, where he hopes more punitive measures will help convey the message that cyber-bullying is unacceptable. According to Kruger, current state statute leaves too many vulnerable to attack – that’s why he’s seeking to make cyber-bullying a felony offense. The controversial chair of the Senate Committee on Social Services, Children and Families hopes that the tougher penalties for cyber-bullying will go into effect in January.

“As it happens, people are unprotected,” Kruger said. “Computers have brought us into a new age and have become a tool of harassment. Some have taken advantage of them.”