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Why didn't Florida's new cyberbullying law help Rebecca Sedwick?

3:40 PM, Oct 16, 2013   |    comments
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- This year Florida enacted a new cyberbullying law hailed as one of the best in the nation.

So why didn't it make a difference in the tragic case of 12-year-old Rebecca Sedwick of Lakeland?

Sedwick was the target of relentless bullying for more than a year at her Polk County school and on the Internet.

Last month she climbed an abandoned silo and jumped to her death. Her family blames the bullying for her death.

Polk County school leaders say they did everything they could to address bullying at school: they separated Sedwick from the bullies, suspended some of them and worked with police on the problem.

But Florida's cyberbullying law gives schools more authority to investigate online bullying that happens off campus if the problem interferes with a student's ability to attend school.

That clearly was the case for Rebecca Sedwick. She tried home-schooling and transferred to another middle school, but the bullying continued online.

Polk County schools say they did not know about the cyberbullying.

Now Wayne Blanton of the Florida School Boards Association expects more schools to consider monitoring students' personal Facebook pages and emails.

"You get into some issues of privacy and you get into some issues of how much can you actually monitor. I think we're going to try to set up systems around the state where you can intermittently look at some students' emails and things of that nature. But it's a very difficult area to deal with, particularly when you look at the volume of what's out there. We have 2.8 million students in the state of Florida."

Blanton believes Florida school districts are doing everything they can to respond to bullying at school and on the Internet.

He says as long as students or parents report these incidents, schools will take action.

"The fact is we're doing as much as we can do right at this moment. As long as the students will report their problem to us, we guarantee the student and the parents that action will be taken."

Reporting bullying can be a tough choice for students, who may fear that going to school officials or police might ratchet up the problem.

Blanton says schools understand that dilemma but he says the most effective way to deal with the problem is to get parents and students to talk about it.

"I think the students are somewhat embarrassed and they have peer pressure to not report it. But they're going to have to come around and do that," Blanton said. 

First Coast News

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