Senate committee OK’s cyberbullying bill

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A bill that would allow for the state’s Department of Education to establish a strict policy on cyberbullying passed the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.

The Safe Schools Act, sponsored by state Sen. Beatrice Lanzi, now heads to the Senate. The bill has already passed the House.

“What we noticed during our many months of hearings is that some schools have a very comprehensive policy and other schools don’t. So what this does is sets a uniform policy so that a student, no matter where they are going to school, they’ll have the same policy, the same procedure, the same penalties throughout our state,” said Lanzi, a Democrat from Cranston.

“It’s also easier for the administrators and the parents to know what to expect.”

The Rhode Island Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union objects to the bill, claiming its definition is too broad.

“One student breaking up with a boyfriend or a girlfriend, two kids teasing each other all of a sudden constitutes bullying. So you have this very dangerous situation where you’re criminalizing, what is ultimately in a lot of instances, pretty innocuous conduct or certainly conduct you’d expect from young kids and turning it into something much more serious,” said Steven Brown, executive director of the Rhode Island ACLU.

Brown said instead more education is needed for students about bullying.

“Bullying is a serious problem and it can and should be addressed, the question is how you address it,” he said.

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