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Cuomo Signs New York's First Cyberbullying Law

Measure calls for schools to develop protocol when dealing with online bullying incidents.

Assemblyman Edward Ra, R-Franklin Square, recently lauded the passage of New York's cyberbullying law. Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the Dignity for All Students Act into law Monday.

According to the Daily News:

The bill requires schools to develop proper protocol to deal with complaints of email, texting or online harassment and designate an official to handle investigations.

Districts will also have to develop preemptive measures to prevent recurrences and create age-appropriate curriculum for students from kindergarten to 12th grade on “safe, responsible use of Internet and electronic communications” as well as “civility, citizenship and character education.”

The state Education Department plans to develop guidance on implementing the requirements by the time the law goes into effect on July 1, 2013, Newsday reported.

The Malverne, West Hempstead and Lynbrook School Districts have already taken steps to incorporate the Dignity for All Students Act into their own Codes of Ethics.

For instance, the West Hempstead Policy Book reads:

"The Board of Education of the West Hempstead Union Free School District is committed to providing an educational environment that promotes respect, dignity and equality. The Board recognizes that students’ ability to learn and to meet high academic standards and a school’s ability to educate its students are compromised by incidents of bullying or harassment ... Therefore, it is the policy of the District to prohibit bullying and harassment on District property, District transportation and at school-sponsored events and functions. Acts of bullying and/or harassment are prohibited, whether they are committed directly or indirectly, in person (face-to-face), or remotely by use of electronic technology, either on school property, at a school function, on a school or charter bus, or off school property where there is a sufficient nexus to the school environment."

The policy defines bullying and harrassment as any act that creates a hostile environment, regardless of whether there is intent to harm. It says the harrassment can be "written, verbal, or physical conduct, intimidation or abuse, including such behavior conducted via electronic communication" through email, text messages, instant messages, voicemail, social networking sites, Web pages, video, blogs or Twitter.

The district is required to promptly investigate all complaints and take corrective action, under the policy. It outlines guidelines for reporting incidents of bullying and grants immunity from civil liabilities to anyone who does so, in good faith, or cooperates with investigations. Consequences for violating the policy include suspensions and loss of privileges consistent with West Hempstead's Student Code of Conduct and all rights under law. The policy also requires the district to train its staff and hold educational, anti-bullying programs for its students.

To comply with the law, the three school districts have also appointed DASA coordinators for each of their school buildings.

In West Hempstead, the building principals -- Dan Rehman (High School), Marcia Murray (Middle School), Anthony Cali (Cornwell), Theresa Ganley (GW) and Michelle Notti (Chestnut) -- and Deputy Superintendent Richard Cunningham will take on this role.

Malverne gave this responsibility to Malverne High School Principal James Brown, Joe Aquino, Dan Dehlsen, Matt Rosen, Davison Avenue Principal Ed Tallon, Eileen Duffy Translavania, Janie Carter-Jorif and Maurice W. Downing Principal Marguerite McDaid. 

Lynbrook also appointed two coordinators for each of its building. Joseph Rainis and Laura Mitchell are assigned to the high school, Sean Fallon and Amanda Tambe will be the coordinators for North Middle School, and Margaret Ronai and Brian Buckley for South. Marion Street's DASA coordinators are Theresa Macchia and Carol Woehr. Lucille McAssey and Carol Woehr have Waverly Park, Alison Puliatte and Sandra Gettenberg have West End, and Ellen Postman and Nicole DiMichele will serve as the coordinators for the Kindergarten Center.

The bill aims to prevent cyberbullying but it does not make it a crime.

"In our ever-changing world, young people today are more computer savvy and spend more time online than any previous generation," Ra said. "Unfortunately, this has led to a disturbing rise in cyber bullying and resulted in very tragic outcomes. This legislation ... will help us prevent the tragic consequence we have seen come about from cyberbullying."

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