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Politicians, Youth Advocates to Participate in NYC Cyberbullying Summit

by Winnie McCroy
EDGE Editor
Thursday Jul 14, 2011

Elected officials and youth advocates will gather at The Times Center in Manhattan on Monday, July 18, for a summit designed to prevent bullying among kids in cyberspace.

Though the Dignity for All Students Act will address general classroom bullying when it goes into effect next July, New York is currently one of only a handful of states without a law against cyberbullying.

"Bullying is no longer been confined to the classroom or the schoolyard. It has spread to a whole range of digital devices across the Internet to cell phones," City Council Speaker Christine Quinn told EDGE, discussing her participation in the Cyber-Bullying Summit 2011. "And while advances in technology have led to new opportunities for our children, it has also led to new threats for their safety and well-being. Government and families must keep up with these advances so we can better keep our kids safe and responsible-both off and online. I'm thrilled to bring together this group of experts from industry, government and advocacy so we can provide parents the tools and information they need to keep their children safe."

Among those who will participate in the event are Quinn, representatives from the Departments of Education and Youth and Community Development, New York City's district attorneys, and counselors and children advocates including cyberbullying and cyber safety expert Parry Aftab, founder of WiredSafety.org and creator of StopCyberBullying.org.

Sponsored by the New York Times Company, this educational event will bring together leaders in technology and Internet safety. Representatives from Facebook, Microsoft, MTV and others will be on hand to educate parents on how to combat cyberbullying, how to talk to their kids about responsible behavior online, and the tools that are available to them.

"Bullying is unacceptable in all its forms and no matter where it occurs-whether in the hallways, the schoolyard, or online," said Schools Chancellor Dennis M. Walcott. "The Cyber-Bullying Summit is a great opportunity for the public and private-sector to come together to help educate students and parents about responsible online behavior and the resources available to help protect them from cyberbullying."

While the cyberbullying summit will provide valuable information, some elected officials are attempting to do more to protect children from bullying in the digital arena.

State Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) recently offered an amendment to DASA aimed at updating laws to prevent and punish cyberbullying. While Senate Democrats rejected the added protections the amendment would have provided, Flanagan vowed to support the measure to ensure that some protections for children were enacted.

DASA explicitly prohibits harassment and discrimination of students with respect to certain non-exclusive protected classes, including, but not limited to, the student's actual or perceived "race, color, weight, national origin, ethnic group, religion, religious practice, disability, sexual orientation, gender or sex."

Then-Gov. David Paterson signed the bill into law in Sept. 2010, but it will not go into effect until next July. Even then, the legislation does not specifically prohibit cyberbullying, although Paterson did state that school-based anti-bullying plans should take it into account.

Twelve states and the District of Columbia have passed measures that explicitly prohibit harassment and bullying based on sexual orientation and gender identity/expression. These include California, Washington, Colorado, Oregon, Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, North Carolina, Maryland, New Jersey, Vermont and Maine. Wisconsin, Massachusetts and Connecticut have safe schools laws designed to protect students based upon sexual orientation, but do not include gender identity and expression.

"While the Dignity for All Students Act is a good first step in enhancing the protection of all students and I am proud to have voted for it, it fails to recognize cyberbullying and therefore fails to face reality," said Flanagan. "As a legislator and, more importantly, as a parent, I know the dangers of this type of bullying and am disappointed that the Democrats failed to act on behalf of the children. We all know that cyberbullying can take place outside the border of a school district but it is important that we all work together to provide the children of this state with as much protection as we can."

Flanagan's proposed amendment would require school districts to define bullying and cyberbullying in the school district's code of conduct and provide disciplinary measures for such acts; include diversity training in a character education program to discouraging acts of bullying and cyberbullying; require school employees to report bullying incidents and create the crime of aggravated harassment of teachers and school personnel.

"It is clear that New York State needs to get up to date with how we approach the growing problem of all forms of bullying including cyberbullying," said Flanagan. He encouraged Democrats to take advantage of his proposed amendment, which is also provided in separate legislation that may still be approved in the Senate and Assembly.

The Cyber-Bulling Summit 2011 will take place from 5 - 8 p.m. on Monday, July 18, at the Times Center at 242 W. 41st St. Log onto http://council.nyc.gov/html/releases/052011cybersummit.shtml to RSVP or contact Nick Rolf in the City Council Community Outreach Unit at (212) 442-5765 or nrolf@council.nyc.gov.


Winnie McCroy is the Women on the EDGE Editor, HIV/Health Editor, and Assistant Entertainment Editor for EDGE Media Network, handling all women's news, HIV health stories and theater reviews throughout the U.S. She has contributed to other publications, including The Village Voice, Gay City News, Chelsea Now and The Advocate, and lives in Brooklyn, New York.


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