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Cyber-bullying bill gets first-round OK in Senate

Tuesday, February 19, 2008 | 3:47 p.m. CST; updated 10:43 p.m. CDT, Friday, July 18, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — The Senate gave first-round approval Tuesday to a bill requiring school districts to adopt policies to handle cyber-bullying.

Last year, lawmakers gave school districts until September to create policies to deal with bullying. This year's measure would add "cyber-bullying" specifically to that requirement.

The Missouri School Boards' Association said many of the state's school districts already have policies to deal with cyber-bullying, which involves using such things as e-mails or text messages to bully someone.

"Our model policy on bullying has included cyber-bullying for quite some time," said spokesman Brent Ghan. "For a lot of school districts around the state that would not be something new."

Kelli Hopkins, the group's director of education policy, estimated that more than 300 of the state's 524 school districts already have cyber-bullying policies. When the School Boards' Association wrote a model bullying policy it included a definition of cyber-bullying.

Sen. Yvonne Wilson said bullying through electronic communication is particularly bad because it can continue even after the school day is over.

"When you're in school, you're bullied on the school bus on the way home, but cyber-bullying goes on and on and on and on until they can't handle it any longer," said Wilson, D-Kansas City.

Her legislation needs another Senate vote to move to the House.

Most of the schools with cyber-bullying policies had them in place before that kind of harassment made international news last fall after a reports about the 2006 death of a St. Charles County girl who killed herself after being criticized through online messages.

Police said 13-year-old Megan Meier hanged herself after being teased on a social networking Web site. A neighborhood mother, her 18-year-old employee and 13-year-old daughter are accused of creating a fake profile of an attractive teenage boy to determine what Meier was saying about the daughter online.

A Senate committee has already approved separate legislation triggered by the case that would expand laws against harassment to cover new technology.

The school cyber-bullying policy is SB762.


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