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Hernando School Board expresses concerns over new cyberbullying law

BROOKSVILLE — The Hernando County School Board is pushing back against a new state cyberbullying law that requires school districts to investigate certain incidents that happen outside school.

At a workshop Tuesday, during a discussion of the district's antibullying and harassment policy, a majority of board members signaled their desire to fight the state statute. They directed the board's legal counsel to examine the district's options and the ramifications of failing to adopt the policy.

The cyberbullying law went into effect July 1. It was the result of school principals' complaining that they lacked authority to deal with students who did most of their bullying away from campus but brought the aftermath to school.

Florida lawmakers gave principals more control during the 2013 legislative session. The law requires principals to discipline students if they become aware of off-campus cyberbullying and "if the bullying substantially interferes with or limits the victim's ability to participate in or benefit from the services, activities, or opportunities offered by a school or substantially disrupts the education process or orderly operation of a school."

Schools are not forced to monitor students' out-of-school activities.

Florida districts have worked this school year to revise their policies to reflect this update. But Hernando School Board members don't like many aspects of the policy.

"It blurs the lines so badly and makes us responsible for things we cannot control," said School Board member Matt Foreman. "I don't support the changes to this policy. So call the (Florida) Department of Education. Not voting for it."

Foreman said the law potentially forces the district to take action on noncriminal behavior that occurs off campus on devices that do not belong to the district.

"I thought it was overbroad, at best, and, quite frankly, ridiculous," he said. "The intentions might be good, but the execution is just awful."

School Board Chairman Gus Guadagnino and board member John Sweeney also said they would like to challenge the law.

"In every matter worth fighting for, somebody has to take the first step," Sweeney said.

Guadagnino said he was concerned about how much staff time the policy would require to enforce.

Failing to conform to the statute could cost the district. The law is tied to a roughly $525,000 allocation from the state, according to the district.

While the new cyberbullying language is not in School Board policy, the Hernando district already investigates outside incidents that have a "substantial impact on the student's ability to be educated," said Mary-Grace Surrena, the district's director of student services.

It wasn't immediately clear how much additional impact placing the language into board policy would have on the district.

Danny Valentine can be reached at dvalentine@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1432. On Twitter: @HernandoTimes.

Hernando School Board expresses concerns over new cyberbullying law 02/05/14 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 5, 2014 10:20pm]
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