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Tuesday, Mar 31, 2015

Hernando School board members blast state cyber bullying law


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BROOKSVILLE - The Hernando County School District stands to lose $500,000 in state funding for its safety and security department if board members vote against mandated revisions to their anti-bullying and harassment policy.

Still, some said they should challenge the mandate from state legislators, which they called ridiculous, unenforceable and overreaching.

The state law passed in 2013 requires school districts to revise their anti-bullying handbooks to include cyber bullying and public humiliation.

In addition, school districts are required by law to investigate cyber bullying complaints using web filtering software, according to district officials.

That also pertains to technological devices like computers and cell phones that are not district property, and for alleged acts of bullying that occur through a technological device off school grounds.

"I don't think this will fly with this board," said board member Cynthia Moore. "Parents have got to come forth and take more responsibility than they do."

Board attorney Paul Meeker reviewed the revised policy, and said it aligns well with the new state law.

The revisions have also been reviewed by the district's anti-bullying committee and department of business services, which recommended language pertaining to employees also be added, since that was an accompaniment to the state bill, district officials said.

By law, each school district's revised policy was required to be submitted to the Florida Department of Education by Jan. 31, a deadline which has already passed.

The "teeth" in the new state bill includes a funding provision to the district's safety and security office.

The district could see its state funding cut in that department by $500,000 if board members vote the revisions down, and challenge the legislature in that manner.

"The intentions might be good, but the execution of it is just awful," said board member Matt Foreman. "I'm in favor of directing our attorney (to challenge Tallahassee)."

School Superintendent Lori Romano said she would rather see current anti-bullying discussions focus more on "conflict resolution" skills, adding that the current discussion about bullying is only aggravating the problem.

Board member Dianne Bonfield said a better approach might be to approve the state's revisions now, and then later dispute the law, and try to have it changed.

"I don't think it's ethical, I don't think it's moral, but it is the law," she said.

Meeker, under the board's direction, said he will review what options the district has to dispute the anti-bullying revisions, and later present those options during a future board workshop for reconsideration.

The next board workshop will be held at 10 a.m. Feb. 18.

(352) 544-5271

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