N.Y. legislature passes cyberbullying bill


Governor expected to sign





NEW YORK — A cyberbullying bill that could give schools new authority over students’ off-campus Internet posts is on its way to Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

The bill, introduced Friday and passed by the state’s Senate and Assembly on Monday, extends New York’s anti-bullying law to cover electronic communication. It grants schools authority over speech that occurs off-campus if it creates a hostile environment, a risk of a substantial disruption at school and “it is foreseeable that the conduct, threats, intimidation or abuse might reach school property.”

The legislature recognizes much of the cyberbullying occurs off-campus, according to the bill, but the activity “nonetheless affects the school environment and disrupts the educational process, impeding the ability of students to learn and too often causing devastating effects on students’ health and well-being.”

Under the bill, a principal, superintendent or the designee of either would be charged with receiving reports of cyberbullying. School employees who witness an incident or receive a report of an incident must notify the principal, superintendent or designee no later than one school day after first learning of it.

That person would then be responsible for overseeing a thorough investigation, and if the investigation reveals any verified harassment, bullying or discrimination, the school would be required to “take prompt actions reasonably calculated” to end the harassment.

“This legislation provides school districts with the tools they need to address bullying and cyberbullying to help ensure that the school environment is safe for all students,” said Sen. Steve Saland, one of the bill’s sponsors, in a news release.  

The bill also requires schools to instruct students on “safe, responsible use of the Internet and electronic communications.”

Compared to other states’ cyberbullying laws, New York’s is “slightly less idiotic,” said Adam Goldstein, attorney advocate at the Student Press Law Center.

“The language of New York’s bill — on its face — goes right up to the line of what you can restrict under current law,” Goldstein said.

That line, Goldstein said, is restricting or punishing off-campus speech that is directed at the school or can be calculated to cause an effect on school grounds and that disrupts the learning environment.

He said the most glaring problem in the bill is a definition of bullying that includes the creation of a hostile environment by conduct that “reasonably causes or would reasonably be expected to cause physical injury or emotional harm to a student.”

That provision limits speech based on what could emotionally harm a 12-year-old, Goldstein said.

“If causing emotional harm to a student is cyberbullying, then every set of parents in New York has cyberbullied their kid,” he said.

Goldstein said the law could lead to a “wave of unconstitutional discipline” if administrators apply the bill too broadly to online student speech.

“[It’s] handing a sword to a group of people who have a track record of cutting themselves with knives,” he said.

In a memo supporting the legislation, Gov. Cuomo said cyberbullying is “a new and especially insidious form of bullying.”

He said this legislation is an essential step in the state’s ongoing effort to improve education.

“Every child is entitled to feel safe in the classroom,” Cuomo wrote in the memo. “Failure to respond immediately and appropriately negatively impacts education and fuels violence.”

By Taylor Moak, SPLC staff writer


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