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

4:22 PM, Oct 16, 2013   |    comments
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Rebecca Sedwick (family photo)
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Tallahassee, Florida - This year Florida enacted a new cyberbullying law hailed as one of the best in the nation.

So how come it did not 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 a 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. We had the same issue a number of years ago about reporting guns on campus. Students have done a wonderful job about coming around and learning that reporting a gun on campus is something you have to do. Most of our guns on campuses now are reported by other students. I think we have to get to the same place with our students in the bullying issue. When you see a student being bullied, you have to report it or the students themselves have to report it."

You can read more about your school district's bullying policy by clicking the links below:

Hillsborough County

Pinellas County

Polk County

Pasco County

Manatee County

Sarasota County

PREVENTING BULLYING: 

Bullying Prevention tips from the FL Department of Education

SafeCircles- Tricia Norman launches online social media site that protects registered users from bullying. Click here for a tutorial.

RELATED STORIES:

Rebecca Sedwick, 12, took her own life because of bullying

Arrests made- 2 girls arrested after bullying victim's suicide 

Rebecca's mom speaks after teen arrests in bullying suicide case

Sedwick's former boyfriendSpeak up if you see bullying

Mother says school district could have done more to stop bullying

PHOTOS: Rebecca Sedwick's story 

Dave Heller

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