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February 12, 2011

Lawyers: Cyberbullying is Discrimination and Needs Solutions, Prevention

Lawyers met today to discuss how they can help prevent cyberbullying, a problem that has become increasingly frequent as an issue before the courts.

Dr. Phil McGraw, who before his TV fame ran a legal consulting services company, recorded a statement played today at a meeting of the _ in Atlanta.  McGraw said that he has used the platform of his TV show to promote solutions to the problem of cyberbullying. “If we want to stop the emotional carnage created by this problem,” he said, “we need all hands on deck.”

The U.S. Department of Education has programs that are focused on developing policy to implement national anti-discrimination laws at all levels of schools, which aim to prevent bullying. Alphonso David, the deputy secretary for civil rights in the state of New York, described his state’s anti-bullying legislation as lifting the burden of reporting bullying and harassment off the students.  Schools will have to adopt policies on harassment, incorporate anti-bullying training into the students’ curriculum and staff requirements, and report incidents of harassment to the state.

Alice Cahn, the director of social responsibility at the Cartoon Network, said that a 2009 survey of second through sixth graders showed that they identified bullying as one of top five most important issues in their lives, and the top issue they believed they could change if they had help from adults and information to prepare themselves.

David noted that what makes cyberbullying particularly problematic is that, while students used to be able to come home and shut the door against harassment, access to the Internet means that hate speech—or just  meanness from peers—can enter the home and last beyond the school day.

Michael Lieberman, of the Anti-Defamation League in Washington, D.C., said that while nine states have anti-bullying legislation in place, it took 11 years for the first national hate crime legislation to become law. He noted the positive step of President Barack Obama making an “It Gets Better” anti-bullying video. “This is a time when we can make progress and institutionalize change,” Lieberman said.

Informing parents is a hallmark of good anti-bullying legislation, Lieberman continued, but the individual rights and privacy of a student have to be carefully balanced against the need for parents to be aware of their child’s pain.