HARTFORD, Conn.—Legislation expanding Connecticut's anti-bullying laws to include cruel and taunting text messages and other cyber-bullying activities cleared the state Senate on Thursday.
Proponents said the bill gives local school officials a legal basis to take action against a bully who harasses another student off school grounds, using technology such as Facebook or a texting device. Currently, that's considered a gray area for school administrators because cyber-bullying is not covered under state statute.
"What we're saying is, if this child's ability to go to school and do their work and go home and do their homework is affected, then it's a school matter and it's right for the school to get involved," said Rep. Andrew Fleischmann, D-West Hartford, co-chairman of the General Assembly's Education Committee.
The bill passed the Senate unanimously. It now moves to the House of Representatives for final legislative action.
Lawmakers said they were inspired to draft the legislation by high-profile cases including the death of 15-year-old Phoebe Prince, who hanged herself last year in her Massachusetts home. Authorities said Prince was the victim of bullying.
The bill requires that teachers be educated in recognizing the signs of suicidal tendencies. It will be part of their in-service training.
Sen. Andrea Stillman, D-Waterford, co-chairwoman of the Education Committee, said the legislation also requires schools to establish a "safe school climate" to help students concentrate on their work and not fear for their safety. Schools will be required to conduct a free online assessment of their climate and take steps to improve it if bullying problems are identified.
Some schools have already made such improvements.
"We're now going to be expanding it and making sure all the schools develop a safe school climate," Stillman said.
Additionally, the bill includes some legal protections for schools that enact anti-bullying policies. However, Stillman said they'd still be liable in instances of gross negligence.