Rhode Island act prevents cyber bullying, not social media access

Rep. Ruggiero penned the Safe Schools Act after a bullying-provoked suicide occurred in Rhode Island.

Rhode Island’s recently-approved “Safe School Act,” created in response to online bullying, seeks to standardize school responses to online bullying issues. And despite some media reports decrying the bill’s apparent ban of all social media at all times, the bill’s author clarifies that social media use is, in fact, encouraged for educational purposes.

The act defines cyber bullying as bullying through the use of technology or electronic communication, including eMail, instant messages, impersonating another person as the author of posted content, as well as a variety of other internet communications.

The Safe Schools Act is meant to provide a statewide policy of disciplinary actions in response to online bullying, including the prompt notification of parents of both the victim and the bully. The new law also protects students who anonymously report bullying.

Adam Goldstein, an attorney with the Student Press Law Center, wrote an opinion article in the Huffington Post criticizing the bill.

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“…the Rhode Island legislature passed HB 5941, an ‘anti-bullying’ measure that, among its other provisions, imposes a blanket ban on the use of ‘social networking sites’ (whatever those are, post-Web 2.0) on school grounds,” wrote Goldstein. “Because as everyone knows, anyone who encounters another user on a website is immediately bullied into submission. Right?”

A reading of the bill, which details provisions for preventing online bullying both on and off school grounds, reveals one bullet point that reads: “Students shall be prohibited from accessing social networking sites at school, except for educational or instructional purposes and with the prior approval from school administration.”

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