During its last session, the New Hampshire Legislature passed a bill that re-wrote a State law designed to provide a safe school environment for all children. Lawmakers intended The Pupil Safety and Violence Prevention Act to increase the likelihood that children will attend schools that are safe, secure, and free of harm. A prohibition against cyberbullying is one significant change, and generally the legislature explained that the sole purpose of the legislation “is to protect all children from bullying and cyberbullying…”
It’s now up to schools and school officials to address the law’s requirements, and in Salem we intend to be uncompromising in our efforts to address behaviors that detract from any child’s learning. Nevertheless, this is not a simple and straightforward issue easily extracted from circumstances or contexts. Concerns reported to school officials have to be investigated thoroughly, and all students need to know their personal responsibilities associated with helping fellow students. Students witnessing incidents of bullying should be prepared to speak up. In many instances, bullying behavior is witnessed by others characterized as passive supporters of the bully or disengaged onlookers that choose not to take a stand. A community improves when everyone in the community accepts some level of personal responsibility.
The law defines bullying as a single incident or a pattern of incidents involving a written, verbal, or electronic communication, or a physical act or gesture, or any combination thereof, directed at another student that:
a) physically harms a student or damages a student’s property;
b) causes emotional distress to a student;
c) interferes with a student’s educational opportunities;
d) creates a hostile educational environment; or
e) substantially disrupts the orderly operation of the school
“Bullying” includes actions motivated by an imbalance of power. In other words, the bully perceives himself or herself to have superior characteristics, behaviors, or beliefs.
Cyberbullying, specifically, is any conduct undertaken through the use of electronic devices which include, but are not limited to, telephones, cellular phones, computers, pagers, electronic mail, instant messaging, text messaging, and websites. Fundamentally, an individual is guilty of cyberbullying when using an electronic device to harass, tease, intimidate, threaten, or stalk another student so as to create an uncomfortable setting or circumstance for that other student. The school becomes involved when the discomfort extends to a child’s educational environment.
Investigations conducted by school officials are designed to deter perpetrators from behaving as bullies in the first place; send a strong message to the school community that bullying behavior isn’t tolerated; promote school safety; and to promote student reporting. As previously stated, school officials are committed to minimizing such conduct by responding swiftly. Correction or remediation will be a part of any good response, but officials will impose stiff penalties on violators. There simply isn’t any place in our schools for the destructive consequences of bullying behavior.