Cyberbullying: Arizona School Districts Bolster Policies, Receive Discounts On Telecommunication Bills

Arizona School Districts Required To Monitor Online Activity In Schools

Beginning this week, school districts in Arizona are required to teach cyberbullying awareness and monitor online chats and social media in schools, in keeping with a bolstered Children’s Internet Protection Act, The Arizona Republic reports.

Several school boards have revised their decades-old policies regarding Internet safety, and in turn receive discounts of up to 90 percent on their telecommunication bills.

Mesa Public Schools, which at 64,000 students represents the largest district in the state, is mandating that students attend anti-bullying awareness classes, which include rules against harassing students online and at school.

Mesa Public Schools will spend $2.8 million on Internet access and telecommunications, which represents a 75-percent discount for compliance with the Children’s Internet Protection Act.

According to Mel Van Patten of Oklahoma-based Kellogg & Sovereign Consulting, the decreased cost could mean the difference between smaller districts having Internet access or not.

Many districts have amended their policies to comply with the new CIPA requirements, though some had already required students to learn about cyberbullying and acceptable computer usage.

"It's not a big change for us because we've been teaching a lot of these things for years," Glendale Elementary School District spokesman Jim Cummings told the Republic.

School districts across the country have implemented or are considering policies that opens dialogue on what the school's role is in social media and what action should -- or shouldn't -- be taken against what students and teachers post online.

A bill that would allow schools to punish students for off-campus activities has advanced in the Indiana legislature, permitting schools to suspend or expel students for engaging in activities away from school and after hours that "may reasonably be considered to be an interference with school purposes or an educational function."

West Virginia recently adopted an anti-bullying policy that would punish students with detention or suspension for "vulgar or offensive speech" online if it disrupts school, and the U.S. Supreme Court last month let stand rulings that said schools could not discipline two Pennsylvania students for MySpace parodies of their principals that the students created at home.

Jeff La Benz, the Chandler Unified School District assistant director of instructional technology, pointed out that "With the gamut of social media, children can be bullied 24/7.”

According to The National Crime Prevention Council, 43 percent of teens are subject to some form of cyberbullying. In January, 15-year-old Amanda Diane Cummings committed suicide after being bullied online, prompting New York Senator Jeffrey D. Klein to introduce a bill that would create harsher penalties for cyberbullies.

Alex Boston, a Georgia middle school student, is suing two of her classmates for libel after being bullied on Facebook. When she first reported the cyberbullying to police and school officials, she was told there was not much they could do because the harassment occurred off campus.

Attorneys and experts say that cyberbullying laws being considered or passed by states are not strong enough, and lawsuits like Boston's are bound to become more commonplace.

Many states have laws or other policies in place that prohibit cyberbullying, but very few apply to intimidation outside of school grounds.

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