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Bills around country aimed at stopping cyberbullying

Educators question whether laws are the answer. Funding for parent, student education on online misbehavior may be more useful.
Written by ZDNET Editors, Contributor on

Amid a general concern over kids' safety online, states across the country are drafting legislation to outlaw cyberbullying, but legislators are running into hurdles, reports the Associated Press

"The kids are forcing our hands to do something legislatively," said Rhode Island state Sen. John Tassoni, who introduced a bill to study cyberbullying and hopes to pass a cyberbullying law by late 2007.

Some legislators doubt the efficacy of laws that try to stem bad behavior. George McDonough, an education coordinator with Rhode Island's Department of Education, concedes that the Internet has become an "instant slam book," but he questions whether laws can stem bad behavior.

"You can't legislate norms, you can only teach norms," he said. "Just because it's a law they don't necessarily follow it. I mean, look at the speed limit."

The anonymity of the Internet allows students to insult others without direct consequences, and many legislators and educators want to see laws or policies on how to deal with it.

Steven Brown, executive director of the Rhode Island branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, said that an anti-cyberbullying law would infringe on free-speech rights.

"The fact that two teenagers say nasty things about each other is a part of growing up," he said. "How much authority does a school have to monitor, regulate and punish activities occurring inside a student's home?"

Nevertheless, states such as Arkansas have asked school districts to set up policies to address cyberbullying. Oregon and South Carolina have set up similar policies aimed at the schools.

"Cyberbullying isn't going on in school," she said. "It is going on at home, and I think there needs to be more programs to educate parents about the dangers," said Patricia McCormick, assistant principal of the private St. Philip School in Smithfield, R.I.
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