Too often in recent days we've seen how social networking can become a deadly tool for cyberbullies.

Rebecca Sedwick a 12-year-old middle-schooler in Lakeland, Fla., joined the list of tragic cases last September when she was bullied online and in person by as many as 15 girls at her school. Unable to cope, the young teen climbed an abandoned silo tower at a cement factory and jumped to her death.

School officials in her district said they did all they could to address the problem on site, including separating her from the bullies, suspending some of them, and working with police.

The online bullying, however, was a much harder problem to deal with. Wayne Blanton of the Florida School Boards Association said schools would like to consider monitoring students' personal Facebook pages and emails but because of privacy issues, they don't know how far they can go. He said it's possible to intermittently look at some students' emails but with 2.8 million students in the state, that's a tall order.

There is an effort to go beyond the policing efforts by schools and deal with bullying in the criminal court system. Florida State Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen has proposed a bill that would criminalize bullying at a state level.

The bullying offense would involve "a person who willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly harasses or cyberbullies another." Anyone arrested for bullying could be charged with a first-degree misdemeanor, and anyone who bullies someone repeatedly could face a third-degree felony.

Punishment would vary based on the degree of the act, starting with fines and escalating to jail time. Schools would be required to establish strict rules to combat bullying in order to receive federal funding.

We agree with Rep. Fitzenhagen's assertion that the security of our children should not be a partisan issue. Lawmakers may disagree on ideology but political differences should never negate attempts to protect our children by strengthening cyberbullying laws.

By Jim Zbick

editor@tnonline.com [1]