By MICHAEL VIRTANEN
ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - School districts will be required to establish protocols to curb online bullying or harassment of students under legislation signed Monday by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, but "cyberbullying" won't constitute a specific criminal charge.
The measure, which takes effect next July 1, requires schools to promptly investigate reports of students bullied through emails, electronic messaging or social networking sites. Other steps include staff training, coordination with police when appropriate and telling the community about the policies.
"We must do all we can to ensure that every child in New York State feels safe in the classroom," Cuomo said.
The bill, passed last month in a political deal between the governor and legislative leaders, omitted a proposal by some lawmakers to make online bullying a specific crime. In a radio interview, Cuomo had said the state would have to look more closely at that issue, asking what should be done with an online bully who is only 14 or 15.
While defining cyberbullying as harassment or bullying that occurs through any form of electronic communication, the new law includes a school response to incidents that occur off the school campus when they would reasonably be expected to cause disruption at school or cause students to fear for their safety, interfere with their mental or emotional health or interfere with school performance.
Districts will have to identify an official responsible for receiving bullying reports, establish a mechanism for parents and students to report bullying, and require school staff who witness an incident or receive a report to notify that official verbally within one school day and in writing within three. The principal, superintendent or someone they designate will be required to ensure all reports are investigated thoroughly and promptly and act to end any verified cases, prevent recurrences and prohibit retaliation against anyone who reports bullying.
According to the governor's office, a 2011 survey of New York high school students showed nearly 18 percent were bullied on school property and 16 percent bullied electronically in 2010.
"Cyberbullying is a new and especially insidious form of bullying. It allows bullies to do their work at a distance, outside of schools, in front of a broad audience and sometimes under the protection of anonymity," Assemblyman Daniel O'Donnell said in his sponsors' memo. "The use of technology to rapidly transmit vicious content to a wide audience makes acts of cyberbullying highly visible, more pervasive. Research has revealed a link between cyberbullying and low self-esteem, family problems, academic problems, school violence and delinquent behavior."
Recent cases include the suicides of a bullied gay teenager in western New York after offensive comments he endured online and a 15-year-old girl on Staten Island who jumped in front of a city bus two days after Christmas after she was tormented on Facebook.
The measure defines harassment, bullying and discrimination as including, not limited to, acts based on a person's actual or perceived race, color, weight, national origin, ethnic group, religion, religious practice, disability, sexual orientation, gender or sex.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.