Bullying and its more insidious cousin, cyberbullying, have become an increasing problem among Florida children and adolescents. But a law signed by Gov. Rick Scott last week will provide new tools to school administrators to combat it. It's an appropriate update to address a technology-driven phenomenon that clearly impacts school life, even if the initial action isn't committed on school grounds.
Some disquieting statistics make evident the need for new tools to combat bullying. As social media has become a bigger part of their lives, at least 50 percent of all adolescents have been subjected to cyberbullying attacks. Studies have shown that children who might never stoop to bullying in person will nonetheless attack from a keyboard, unaware of the potential damage their words can inflict as they go viral. The trend was brought into chilling relief with 2012 suicide of Jessica Laney, a Pasco County teen who hanged herself after an anonymous cyberbullying campaign.
Until now, school administrators could only take action against bullying students if the incidents occurred on school property, or in the course of a school-sponsored event, or on a school bus — frustrating victims of cyberbullying and their families. But under HB 609, a new nexus has been created where school administrators can move to hold perpetrators accountable if cyberbullying affects a victim's ability to participate in school or disrupts the educational process or orderly operation of the school.
Now all children should be on notice that cruelty, whether inflicted in person or online, has consequences for themselves as well as their victims.