Massachusetts takes a step forward in addressing cyber bullying

May 5, 2010 10:36am

By Michael Kaiser, NCSA Executive Director

Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick signed a sweeping new anti-bullying bill today that was developed in the wake of the suicide of Phoebe Prince, 15, who was the subject of continuous victimization at South Hadley High School. Nine students have been arrested in the case and await their fate in the criminal justice system.

The new law is fairly comprehensive and lays out a definition of bullying that includes “the repeated use by one or more students of a written, verbal, or electronic expression or a physical act or gesture or any combination thereof that causes physical or emotional harm, places a  the victim in reasonable fear of harm to himself or damage to his property, creates a hostile environment at school, infringes the rights of the victim at school, or disrupts the education process…bullying shall include cyber bullying.

As part of the law school must

  • Have a plan for dealing with bullying
  • Provide age appropriate curriculum on bullying using evidence based programs
  • Train all school personnel including educators, administrators, janitors, coaches paraprofessionals and others.
  • Have a plan for informing parents of the curriculum in use

It is sad to see that such tragedy is what finally leads to change. However, it is also good to see these incidents will be taken seriously going forward.

At NCSA we are pleased to see that training for school staff is included. In recent research we conducted on the state of cyber education in the United States, we found that 76% of teachers received less than 6 hours professional development on all cyber education issues (cyberethics, cybersecurity, and cybersafety), and only 56% of teachers were satisfied with the level of training they were getting on cybersecurity, cybersafety, and cyberethics. The Massachusetts law does not specify how much training is to be provided, although the hope is that it’s substantial enough for all involved to thoroughly understand the issues and be able to intervene in a meaningful way to protect young people.

As much as the new law enacted today does to impact a serious problem, we need break out of the issue-by-issue approach and develop a vision and plan for teaching about the safe and secure use of technology by young people and give our educators and other adults the training and education they need so they are confident in the material.

SSO (stay safe online),