WIUM Tristates Public Radio

Curtailing School Bullying

Sciota, IL – At least one local superintendent thinks a new bullying law in Illinois is a step in the right direction, but he says only time will tell if it will be effective.

On Sunday, Gov. Pat Quinn signed Senate Bill 3266 into law. It mandates the creation of a School Bullying Prevention Task Force, and expands the definition of bullying to include "cyber-bullying," which is conducted through electronic means such as instant messaging, Facebook and MySpace.

The law also requires each school district and private school to develop and maintain a bullying policy that's updated every two years. That's nothing new for public schools, but is for private institutions.

West Prairie School District Superintendent Jonathan Heerboth says his district has always had an anti-bullying measure similar to what the state now mandates. But he says no one has come up with a clear-cut solution to stop bullying.

"At the state level, groups of people are coming together to put their heads together on this," says Heerboth. "[That] may lead to some kind of a state-wide effective approach."

Heerboth hopes the legislation will result in a more effective method of dealing with cyber-bullying. As it stands now, bullying conducted between students off school premises through social networking sites such as Facebook aren't punishable by the school. Heerboth says online conflicts often carry over into the next school day, but if they don't, there's not much that can be done.

"Just the mere fact that someone breaks a school rule when they're in their own home... if it doesn't affect school, they're not subject to school discipline," says Heerboth.

Heerboth says that's why it's important any future bullying prevention plan to include measures to cooperate with local law enforcement for incidents that occur off school grounds.

"Everybody hopes schools can deal with this from a discipline point of view," says Heerboth. "But it's been my experience that most of the consequences of this really ought to be in the legal system because they're happening outside of school."