Well, here we go again - forcing schools to deal with societal problems over which educators have little control.
An anti-bullying law approved by the state Legislature two years ago kicked in on July 1. It requires schools to implement a curriculum to teach students civility and tolerance in an effort to cut down on bullying in schools. But before the Dignity for All Students Act even went into the effect, the state Legislature added a component making schools specifically responsible for investigating and dealing with cyberbullying.
Said Republican Sen. Stephen Saland of Poughkeepsie, who sponsored the amendment, "With this new law, when cyberbullying impedes a student's ability to learn, victims and their parents will now have the ability to report the incidents to school districts to investigate. This is a critically needed step toward ensuring a safe school environment."
He said school officials will deal with cyberbullying under authority of a federal court ruling that they are within their rights to determine a blog posting that is written off campus could create a "foreseeable risk of substantial disruption to the work and discipline of the school."
We absolutely agree that bullying in general and cyberbullying in particular are pernicious and have driven children to kill themselves rather than suffer through any more of it.
The sad fact is, as a society, we just cannot agree on a way to stop the bullying. Experts tell us teenagers aren't dissuaded from certain behavior on threat of punishment - and so we don't go after the bullies. Instead, we run TV ad campaigns aimed at telling their victims, the kids whose lives are being made miserable day after day, to wait it out. Life gets better, we tell them.
Too, we know children learn about bullying from others and that their parents and peers tolerate it. You can see for yourself at, say, a youth soccer tournament or a high school basketball game that adults, by their own behavior, show kids it is OK to be bullies.
In New York, we push the responsibility for doing something, anything, about bullying and now cyberbullying onto our schools - with legislation that claims there is no financial impact, by the way.
It simply makes no more sense to expect schools to be responsible for investigating and then dealing with cyberbullying than it does to have schools responsible for investigating and then dealing with cases of suspected child abuse that are reported by teachers.
We doubt the newest law will do much more than increase costs to the schools.