Years ago, bullying was limited to the classrooms and hallways
of the school. Students may have been taunted, or have had notes
passed about them in class, but outside school students were safe
With the advent of “cyberbullying” – bullying through the use of
the Internet, cell phones or other technology – bullies can target
their peers outside school. A new state law that took effect Friday
defines cyberbullying, lays out steps school districts must take to
prevent it and generally tightens policy to make it uniform across
districts and hold schools more accountable.
A bullying law was created in 2002, but the new law has updated
language and specific sections about cyberbullying. With more
technology in schools today, the risk of cyberbullying rises.
Schools are grappling with the need to implement technology for
educational purposes while also teaching students about how to
appropriately use the new technology.
“What we need to do is take a look at a balance between bringing
more technology in for instructional purposes and the balance of
making sure we instruct students and inform them what’s
appropriate,” said Meriden Associate School Superintendent Robert
Angeli said Meriden is trying to be proactive. The district is
seeking an available grant to create a text messaging hotline where
students can anonymously report bullying, he said.
Cheshire School Superintendent Greg Florio called teachers and
administrators “digital immigrants.”
“We’ve tried to make a concerted effort to understand the way
students are using electronics and the internet so we can
understand where the issues might be,” he said.
The law stipulates that schools must address cyberbullying that
occurs outside of the school if it meets certain criteria: “If such
bullying creates a hostile environment at school for the student
against whom such bullying was directed, infringes on the rights of
the student against whom such bullying was directed at school or
substantially disrupts the education process or the orderly
operation of a school.”
Previous language was much looser and allowed for more leeway
for schools. Before, the law only stated that policies “may include
provisions addressing bullying outside of the school setting if it
has a direct and negative impact on a student’s academic
performance or safety in school.”
Another important piece of the law is that each Board of
Education must create a safe school climate plan to address how
bullying is handled in its schools. The plan must contain several
elements, including the designation of a district-wide safe school
climate specialist, who will review reports of bullying and help
decide how the district will act on them. Plans are required to be
approved by each individual board by Jan. 1, 2012.
To ensure bullying doesn’t go unreported, and is acted upon, the
law establishes a clear timeline for how districts must act.
Teachers must verbally notify administrators if they see bullying
within one day of the incident and file a written report within two
days. Incidents of bullying must be investigated within 10 days of
Wallingford schools have a head start toward addressing the
legislation, having already formed a school climate committee as
part of the district’s strategic plan.
“I think we are in a good place,” said Wallingford School
Superintendent Salvatore Menzo. “We did a lot of work last year.
The climate committee was a key thing to put in place.”
Menzo said the district doesn’t have a specific cyberbullying
policy, but that it was something the climate committee would
address. The Connecticut Association of Boards of Education hasn’t
put out a sample policy on the issue, Menzo said, so the district
will be looking at schools that have existing policies when
developing its own.
Southington School Superintendent Joseph V. Erardi Jr. said he
hoped to have his district’s committee in place by the start of the
next school year and have a policy before the board on or before
Nov. 1. Erardi envisions a committee composed of parents, students,
teachers and administrators to draw up the new policy. The
district’s safe school climate plan will contain changes regarding
social networking, Erardi said.
None of the school administrators were worried about finding
volunteers for the committee. Angeli said that while teachers work
primarily in the classroom, they also help with students’ general
“It’s the education of the whole child,” Angeli said. “They try
to take care of social and emotional needs as well as the academic
needs of our students.”
Though many districts don’t have specific policies about
bullying through social media channels, existing policies take over
if the bullying is reported to the school by a student. Florio said
that while there is no specific language about cyberbullying in
Cheshire, the district treats it the same as regular bullying under
its existing policy. “If it impacts the school, we have to deal
with it,” Florio said.
State Rep. Mary Mushinsky, D-Wallingford, is a strong supporter
of the new law.
“We needed a section on cyberbullying for about four or five
years,” she said. Mushinsky proposed the original bill after a
Meriden middle school student committed suicide in the wake of
Mushinsky said bullying takes productive students and makes them
not want to attend class. With the new law, Mushinsky said she
hopes districts will be proactive about bullying.
“Now there’s deadlines, accountability and follow through,” she