A new state law will allow Kings County schools to take action against cyberbullying.
Gov. Brown passed AB 256 earlier this month, which allows schools to suspend or expel a student who uses electronic means such as social media as a tool for bullying, both on and off campus.
Previous laws prohibited schools from disciplining students for bullying unless it was committed on school grounds. The law goes into effect in January.
The bill was authored by Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, D-Bell Gardens.
“Once cyberbullying is discovered in a text, email or in any form, this law will give school officials the tools to pursue bullies and protect the well-being of our students,” she said in a press release. “[It] closes a large loophole in anti-bullying law to match the reality we live in today by updating laws written before the explosive growth of electronic devices and instant communication.”
Kings County Superintendent Tim Bowers said he believes the law isn’t the answer to addressing student bullying.
“I think schools need to determine for themselves what is most appropriate,” he said. “For the most part, I don’t think schools should be stepping into the personal lives of students, but cyberbullying is a major issue we have to deal with as a modern society.”
Bowers said the key is to train and educate students more about the impact their behavior is having on other students and the school, both on and off campus.
“Schools have a responsibility to show students how their behavior in their personal life can be detrimental to other students and the school in certain situations,” he said. “They like to think they’re tough and strong, but they’re really just fragile beings that need to be nurtured, not tortured.”
Ward Whaley, director of administrative services for Hanford Joint Union High School District, has a more optimistic view about the legislation.
“It’s timely because cyberbullying is becoming a growing problem that administrators are facing,” he said. “Students today are more technologically advanced than even five or 10 years ago.”
Whaley said it’s been difficult to determine in the past how much jurisdiction schools have in disciplining students for cyberbullying that occurs off campus. Now with the new law, he said it will help them have a clearer idea of how they can move forward with cyberbullying complaints.
“We don’t want to go overboard, but it definitely gives us more jurisdiction,” he said.
Whaley said current district policy only allows the discipline of a student for bullying if it has a clear, visible impact on school function, such as learning disruption.
“Cyberbullying that occurs away from school will likely cause disruption at school, such as student confrontations,” he said. “When something like that happens, that’s when we know for sure we have jurisdiction.”
Once a complaint is made, the school conducts an investigation to determine if a bullying incident has had an impact on school grounds. The investigation may include accessing students’ text messages or online posts. Bullying through text messaging has become the main avenue of cyberbullying in the district.
While Whaley said suspensions and expulsions are possible, they try to give students warnings or discipline them through other means such as detention or Saturday school.
“If it happens a lot and becomes common, that’s when we decide to suspend or expel a student,” he said. “It has to be something really serious to get to that point. We have to make sure our students are protected.”
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