SALEM, Ore. — The Oregon Legislature gave final approval to a bill that would require school districts to come up with a plan to combat cyberbullying, which involves threats or taunts sent electronically.
House Bill 2637 is an addition to Oregon anti-bullying legislation passed in 2001. The bill — now on Gov. Ted Kulongoski's desk — defines cyberbullying as "the use of any electronic communication device to harass, intimidate or bully."
Teachers, administrators and parents say the problem of students employing technology to bully peers and spread nasty rumors has exploded as children spend more and more time sending text messages and using the Internet.
"I think I hear about some type of cyberbullying everyday," said Kevin Blackwell, a social worker at Hillsboro High School. "These kids are devastated; it's at such a wide scale."
Parry Aftab, the director of WiredSafety.org, an online safety and education group, said she has spoken with thousands of students, and nearly all of them have been victims of cyberbullying.
"It's an epidemic," Aftab said. "If you can give schools the chance and authority to create a policy, then you can do some serious good here."
House Majority Leader Dave Hunt, D-Gladstone, pushed for the measure after getting reports about the problem from constituents: "It's just becoming very apparent how different technology is in school," Hunt said. "We've got to make sure there are clear policies."
Senators who voted against the bill on June 14 said they didn't think a statewide policy was necessary.
Blackwell, the social worker, also isn't convinced. He says the changes need to happen in the home. Adults need to be more tech savvy, and need to take the broken friendships and online fistfights that result from cyberbullying seriously, he said.
"I don't think parents understand how impactful MySpace is, or really what it is," Blackwell said, referring to the social networking Web site. "It sounds really trivial to us, but to high school kids, relationships are the biggest thing you have."
This bill requires schools to come up with ways to address cyberbullying that happens on campus, near campus, on school buses or at school-related activities. It doesn't ban malicious posts and videos created when students are at home.