Ohio’s anti-bullying laws go too far, or not far enough, depending on who you ask.
Earlier this year, Governor John Kasich signed the Jessica Logan Act into law.
Jessica Logan was a Cincinnati teen who committed suicide after a sext she sent to her boyfriend went viral at her school and resulted in bullying.
The Jessica Logan Act’s big step is to expand those policies online. Facebook and Twitter is where a lot of bullying takes place these days says Christine Bhat, an assistant professor and cyber-bullying expert at Ohio University. A 2009 study from MTV and the Associated Press found that 56 percent of youth had experienced cyber bullying as some point in time.
Bhat says schools have been reluctant to fight bullying online.
“In the past there’s often been resistance in dealing with the issue thinking that if cyber-bullying is taking place in the home then it’s not really the school’s problem,” Bhat says. “But I think in recent years that thinking has changed as schools have realized that it doesn’t matter where it’s taking place if their students are involved then it becomes difficult for students to learn when there are these undercurrents going on.”
An earlier anti-bullying law requires schools to write their own anti-bullying and anti-harassment policies, but it has no teeth when it comes to enforcement. While the Jessica Logan Act redefines bullying to include cyber-bullying, it does little to ensure schools are doing more than just updating those policies.Bhat applauds the expansion of Ohio’s anti-bullying efforts to the Internet, but she says it’s still a reactive approach to cutting down on bullying, instead of a proactive one. She says reactive policies punish bullies, but do little to change the general culture of bullying.
“I think that we need to be doing a better job of creating communities where people care for each other better and where students learn skills such as empathy and social connectedness because I think that is what is going away as people become more and more immersed in technology,” says Bhat.
Bhat suggests schools should partner with parents in preventative efforts, and parents should be more explicit with their teens about how to use technology.
“This analogy is not mine, but we would never let a young person get behind the wheel of a car and jump on the highway,” says Bhat, but parents give their kids cell phones and computers all the time without thinking to train them in appropriate online behavior.
But Dennis Leone, a retired Ohio school superintendent of 23 years and an assistant professor as Ashland University is concerned about the ever-expanding definition of bullying that schools are expected to prevent.
Leone says it’s “way out of bounds” to ask school districts to police students’ online behavior 24/7, in the same way it’s unfair to ask schools to ensure their students act appropriately at the mall on Saturday night.
Leone is also incredulous that schools would be expected to deal with what the law calls “dating violence” which the Jessica Logan Act includes as an act of bullying.
What concerns Leone even more is that these laws could put schools at risk for lawsuits when bullying does occur.
Supporters of the stricter anti-bullying regulations that are being passed nationwide say more lawsuits may not be a bad thing if they encourage schools to be more proactive in preventing future instances of bullying.