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Senate, Assembly pass anti-cyberbullying legislation

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SACKETS HARBOR — Superintendent Frederick E. Hall Jr. was prepared for the Dignity for All Students Act that will go into effect July 1, protecting children from bullies at school. Adjustments might have to be made at his district and others, however, if a bill addressing bullying outside of school hours becomes a law.

Legislation passed in the state Senate and Assembly this week against cyberbullying, a method of bullying through text messages or instant messaging on a computer.

The proposal will go into effect following Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s signature.

“The Code of Conduct was revised already for the Dignity for All Students Act,” Mr. Hall said during a Sackets Harbor Central School District Board of Education meeting Tuesday. “The cyberbullying one will be interesting. They recognize that it happens outside the school day, but it has implications within the school.”

According to a released statement, 28 percent of students between 12 and 18 reported being bullied at school. The number of cyberbullying victims doubled to 16 percent in 2009. The proposal would require schools to make regular reports on harassment and discrimination trends to the superintendent as well as investigate any reports made by a student or teacher.

Principal Jennifer L. Gaffney-Goodnough “is good about following these things,” Mr. Hall said. “It’s all about communication, communicating with the parents.”

The school signed up for www.anonymoustips.com to help students who might otherwise be scared to report incidents.

“I’ve had kids coming to me often telling me that ‘somebody’s bullying me on Facebook,’” Ms. Gaffney-Goodnough said. “At times, we’ve gotten law enforcement involved. Thankfully, we’ve only had a couple of cases like that in the past few years.”

State Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, who co-sponsored the bill in the Senate, met with Indian River Central School District and Jefferson County officials earlier this month to discuss the implications of bullying. The Indian River High School theater is planning to make a docudrama about the source of bullying next school year.

“Parents, schools, law enforcement and all people in the public and private sector need to partner to promote the ideas of civility, citizenship and character, both face to face and online,” said Principal Troy W. Decker in a released statement.

Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell, D-Theresa, and Assemblyman Kenneth D. Blankenbush, R-Black River, voted to pass the legislation.

The Watertown City School District made moves toward the Dignity for All Students Act when the Board of Education decided to create an anti-bullying task force consisting of community members, professionals and students to address the issue at school.

“Depression is connected to bullying,” Superintendent Terry N. Fralick said when the board passed the task force in May. “There are a lot of young people who need outside help and don’t know where to turn.”

Paul J. Foley, the father of a Watertown High School senior who committed suicide in late May, said his daughter deleted her Facebook account before she died. He did not know if she was being cyberbullied through the site, but said he wished he asked.

“She used to be a big Farmville player. I remember her playing it all the time,” he said about the popular Facebook game. “Schools have to be accountable for bullying.”

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