Cyberbullying Laws: Understanding California and New Jersey State Policies

California and New Jersey are two states that aim to protect students against cyberbullying.  California was on of the first states to specifically write policy to address cyberbullying. The 2010 Assembly Bill 86 gives authority to schools to punish students for bullying others online or offline. The bill specifically gives principals the authority to suspend students or recommend them for expulsion if the principal believes that bullying took place. The bill gives equal weight to both classic bullying and cyberbullying. The bill only addresses bullying when it is associated with school (on school grounds, at a school sponsored event, during lunch, walking to and from school, etc) but does not address a situation that takes place totally off-campus

The California law is important because it considers cyberbullying as much as it considers classic forms of bullying. The law includes sound and image communication via an electronic device as a form of communication that bullying can occur over, which can include texting, chatting online, paging, or speaking on the telephone. I do worry, however, that the law does not have any teeth for kids like Megan Meier as her bully was not associated to her directly through the school. Anecdotally, there seem to be cases of bullying that go on outside of school, and I believe that law should try to address that. Perhaps the laws should be different when discussing intent of the bully, and that could be interpreted to say that the intent of an online bully, even though he or she may not be physically with the person (in or out of school as well), there are direct effects that are targeted to be negative, and if that effects school work, because I do believe that the school has a unique place in the kids’ lives to effect change, the school can ask for further investigation of who the bully is and the appropriate course of action. The only other addition to law that I believe is important is a requirement by law that schools implement safe policies for kids to report bullying. The schools must stress anonymity of the victim to protect him or her, and should either have or refer to a counselor for the kid if he or she would like to see one. The school needs to educate children on the signs of cyberbullying and how deception on the internet works as well.

The New Jersey model policy from 2011 addresses bullying by prohibiting harassment, intimidation, and bullying on school property, ay school-sponsored events, and on school buses. The document dictates where and how schools should address students when posting schools’ policies on bullying and the schools’ resources for victims and perpetrators. It is clear the schools must be transparent with students on the policies and when the policies are updated. The law also requires schools to annually update their policies. The law is similar to California in that it gives responsibility to the principal, and not by the district board of education, to consult with anti-bullying specialists to determine the course of action for the school’s response. However, the investigation will be performed by the school anti-bullying specialist, who is hired by the principal, and occurs after the principal directs the person to do so.

The 2011 New Jersey law seems well thought out, however it does not address cyberbullying specifically. It references research on cyberbullying for much of the policy recommendations; yet does not specify what their definition of cyberbullying is nor does the policy dictate to schools how to address the issue. I believe that unless the law is explicit in targeting cyberbullying, school policies will write about more classic forms of bullying, leaving out the more pervasive and easy form of bullying that happens online and via text. Again, the bill does not protect against cyberbullying that does not happen in relation to school. Perhaps this is where we need federal protection to mandate baseline standards when dealing with those who target children online in order to hurt them.

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