When I was a kid, a bully was someone who knocked you down and stole your lunch money. Today though, bullies have more to work with than just brute strength.
Through e-mail, texting and Internet postings, bullies have found new ways to hurt their victims.
The Senate Education Committee, which I chair, met earlier this month and voted to expand the state’s bullying law to recognize the problem of cyber bullying. According to anti-bullying organizations, roughly half of teens have been victims of some sort of cyber bullying and 10 to 20 percent experience cyber bullying on a regular basis.
Senate Bill 184 builds on the bullying law that was passed in 2009. That law made important changes aimed at protecting children from bullies at school.
The 2009 law required school districts to adopt a policy prohibiting bullying by students. The law required the Department of Public Instruction to develop a model bullying policy which schools could use if they chose.
The model bullying policy includes a definition of bullying and a prohibition on bullying. It establishes a procedure for reporting bullying, investigating reports and prohibits retaliation against a student for reporting an incident. It includes additional reporting requirements for school employees and suggests disciplinary actions that may be taken. Finally, it identifies the school-related events and, school owned or leased properties and vehicles used for student transportation for which the policy applies.
The 2009 law also directed DPI to develop a model education and awareness program on bullying and to post both the model policy and the model program on its website.
SB 184 addresses the problem of cyber bullying. This type of bullying creates the same type of hostile environment for victims but happens through electronic means and often uses social media sites like Facebook and Twitter or through texting.
Sometimes this involves sending mean messages to someone’s e-mail account or phone, spreading rumors online, stealing a person’s account information and pretending to be them online, or posting or otherwise circulating sexually suggestive pictures or messages about a person.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, victims of cyber bullying are more likely to use alcohol and other drugs, skip school or be unwilling to attend school, experience in-person bullying at school, get bad grades and have low self-esteem.
SB 184 would change three parts of state law. First, it would require that the Department of Public Instruction’s model school policy on bullying include a definition of bullying by electronic means.
Second, the bill would require the model school bullying policy to say that bullying that occurs off school grounds and away from school activities can be disciplined if it creates a hostile learning environment or substantially disrupts school operations or activities.
Finally, the bill would change existing law regarding unlawful use of computer equipment to include posting a message electronically. Current law prohibits sending a message via e-mail or other messaging system that is intended to frighten, abuse, harass, intimidate or frighten another person.
This bill is not a cure-all that will stop all cyber bullying, but I hope it will help parents identify cyber-bullying and will help schools address this problem.
Senate Bill 184 was approved unanimously by the Senate Education Committee and is now available for consideration by the full senate. As of July, 18 other states had laws on the books regarding cyber-bullying, with another five states considering legislation.
I would like to see Wisconsin join the ranks of those eighteen states that are taking a stand against cyber bullying.