WA lawmakers try to address cyberbullying

Forty percent of kids say they have been harassed online. Bill would require schools to inform parents about risks.
Written by ZDNET Editors, Contributor

For all the fears about online predators, schoolchildren in Seattle face a much more pressing concern: cyberbullying. A report from the Seattle School District found that over 40 percent of youths nationwide report that they were bullied online, while 53 percent said something unkind online. Nearly 60 percent of those students who say they have been targets, said it came from an instant messaging. Emailing photos and uploading them on to MySpace pages was also a problem.

Washington state legislators reacted to the report with a bill that would require school districts to inform parents about electronic harassment, reports the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

"Unfortunately, because there can be a faceless nature in terms of interacting over the Internet and sending text messages and instant messages and so forth, there's not always the face-to-face interaction with those with whom we're communicating," said Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle who sponsored the bill.

Concerns have been raised that the bill would impede free speech rights while making more regulation for school districts to enforce.

"Every time we make a change -- even a one-word change -- in a mandate we send down to our school districts, we're making them do more, and we're not giving them the funding to do it," said Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver.

Sen. Bob Morton, R-Orient, said that existing school harassment policies should already apply to cyberbullying, and that no change in language is necessary.

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