Washington state Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, has introduced a bill that would require school harassment policies to prohibit “cyber bullying.”

“Schools would make [cyber bullying] subject to disciplinary action and certainly students may think twice about engaging in this,” she told the Associated Press. The internet offers technology-savvy teens many ways to stay in constant contact with friends, from instant messaging to private chat rooms.

It also provides new forums for malicious gossips and school bullies. Cyber bullying ranges from ridiculing classmates on web sites and spreading rumors through blogs to bombarding someone with harassing instant messages or publicizing their personal information.

“It’s limited only by the imagination and the technology that kids have access to,” said Parry Aftab, a New Jersey attorney and executive director of Wired Kids, a nonprofit organization that seeks to prevent cyber abuse.

Aftab said a majority of middle-school students at a recent seminar she held in New York said they’d either been a cyber bully or been the victim of one.

Under current state law, school districts are required to have policies prohibiting bullying–written, verbal, or physical acts that negatively affect a student or the school environment.

Kohl-Welles’ bill would add electronic acts of bullying to that definition. Cyber bullying would not have to occur on school property, during school hours, or with school equipment to be covered by the measure, as long as it has an adverse effect on a student or school.

It also would require schools to bar cyber bullying in their internet-use policies. Discipline for violations would be up to the school.

Aftab said such laws can be problematic because they collide with schools’ authority to regulate off-campus activities and speech.

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