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As school year starts, states tackle cyber bullying

Eleven states are reviewing proposals to update or implement cyber bullying laws.

As educators and administrators prepare for another school year, they’re also getting ready to take a new stance against cyber bullying.

In Texas, for example, a law comes into effect this school year that requires schools to have policies for dealing with cyber bullying that occurs on school property or at school events. In Kansas, the education department launched a new anti-bullying hot line last week to supplement a 2008 law that mandates that schools have cyber bullying policies.

Beyond that, 11 states are reviewing proposals to update or implement cyber bullying laws.

All are attempts to bring the state’s approaches to bullying into the 21st century.

“For many people of a certain age, the word bullying tends to conjure up an image of a schoolyard skirmish, but in 2012 that’s not what bullying is at all,” said Chuck Smith, the deputy executive director at Equality Texas, a Texas advocacy group that aims to get rid of gender discrimination.

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More internet access and the widespread use of smart phones have helped lead to increases in cyber bullying, according to Catherine Bradshaw, an associate professor at Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health.

“In one instant they can send out thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of messages,” Bradshaw said.

High-profile suicides, such as that of 13-year-old Hope Witsell in 2009, show how damaging cyber bullying can be. The teenager from Ruskin, Fla., killed herself after a photo of her breast that she’d sent to a boy she liked leaked to the entire school and other students then taunted her and called her names, according to news reports at the time.

Policy makers have tried to counter the increased risk the only way they know how—with legislation.

According to the Cyberbullying Research Center, a collaborative online project run by professors from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and Florida Atlantic University, 45 states now have laws that bar electronic harassment, although only 15 states specifically refer to “cyber bullying.”

The Texas legislation, which passed last year with bipartisan support, requires school boards to incorporate cyber bullying prevention into their school codes of conduct and policies.

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