School-yard bullying has gone high-tech, and a Nebraska lawmaker is pushing for a law that would allow students to be disciplined for so-called cyberbullying over the Internet or via cell phone.

The Legislature's Education Committee will discuss a bill (LB123) Tuesday offered by Sen. Lavon Heidemann of Elk Creek. The measure defines cyberbullying as "any form of electronic communication, on or off school grounds, with the intent of causing harm or serious emotional distress to students or school personnel."

It would allow cyberbullies to be suspended, expelled or moved to other schools.

Some cyberbullying cases have had tragic results.

Last year, some Massachusetts teenagers were charged in the death of 15-year-old Phoebe Prince, who hanged herself after what authorities said were some three months of "incessant'' bullying by text message and through the social networking site Facebook. Prince reportedly was bullied by older girls because she was dating an older boy.

"There are instances out there where kids are posting on Facebook, and it's a constant threat,'' Heidemann said. "This is an issue. We are dealing with a changing world."

According to the Cyberbullying Research Center, which is run by professors at University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and Florida Atlantic University, 20 percent of randomly selected 11- to 18-year-old students it surveyed said they had been victims of cyberbullying.

STOPcyberbullying.org says cyberbullying can go beyond repeated text messages and e-mails or posting on social network sites to include the following:

* Following the child around online, into chat rooms, favorite websites, etc.

* Planting statements to provoke third-party stalking and harassment.

* Signing a child up for porn sites and adding him or her to e-mailing lists and to receive junk e-mail and instant messages.

* Breaking into online accounts by stealing or otherwise accessing passwords.

* Posting real or doctored sexual images of the child online.

* Sharing personal information about the child.

* Encouraging others to share their top 10 "hit lists" or ugly lists online and including the child.

*Posting and encouraging others to post nasty comments on a child's blog.

*Posting a child's text-messaging address or cell phone number online to encourage abuse.

Under Heidemann's proposal, school districts would be required to develop and adopt policies concerning cyberbullying prevention and education.

According to STOPcyberbullying.org, schools have been sued for exceeding their authority when trying to intervene in cyberbullying cases that took place outside of school hours or off campus. The organization recommends schools address cyberbullying in their written policies in order to reserve the right to discipline students for off-campus actions.

Last year, a California appeals court ruled in a case involving a group of children and their parents who were sued by a victim of cyberbullying, saying the online statements in the case were not protected free speech.

Heidemann's bill is supported by the Nebraska Council of School Administrators.

"We believe that the cyberbullying issue has really grown and become an ever-increasing problem for school districts," Executive Director Michael Dulaney said. "In light of what's happening nationally … it's becoming clear … that something has to be done. This issue is one that we need to address.''

Reach Kevin O'Hanlon at 402-473-2682 or kohanlon@journalstar.com.

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