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Cyberbullying: Proposed Federal Law Aims to Define Codes of Conduct

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With reports of cyberbullying on the rise, many New Yorkers may be surprised to learn that there is no federal law to combat hurtful online messages. Washington bureau reporter Michael Scotto filed the following report.

You've seen the stories, those tragic reports of students ending their lives after being bullied online.

According to the federal Department of Education, cyberbullying has seen an uptick, even as traditional bullying has leveled off.

"What we try to do is give parents and students guidance on how to report bullying, how to prevent it and what to do if they witness it," said David Esquith of the U.S. Department of Education.

For the moment, the website stopbullying.gov is one of the few tools the government has to combat bullying. Efforts to enact a federal anti-bullying law have gone nowhere, though there has been movement on the state level.

Forty-nine states have implemented laws targeting bullying. In 18 states – including New York – those laws single out cyberbullying.

"The problem is we have a patchwork, though, and when you look around the country, those policies leave out millions of kids in thousands of schools," said Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney of Newburgh.

Maloney says he wants Congress to pass legislation known as the Safe Schools Improvement Act. The bill would require schools receiving federal funds to adopt codes of conduct prohibiting bullying, including cyberbullying, based on, among other things, sexual orientation.

"The most conservative people and the most liberal people should be able to agree that kids should be safe at school. And if someone perceives them to be something, and is going to hurt them or terrorize them on that basis, it's wrong," Maloney said.

But critics say the federal government shouldn't be in the business of fighting bullying.

"It gives protection to specific subsets of kids and that's inherently unequal protection under the law, because if you're not in one of the subsets you are not given the same protection," said Neil McCluskey of the Cato Institute.

For now, the bill is stalled in Congress and from the way things look now, it's unlikely to go anywhere this year.

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