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In Florida Bullying Tragedy, Lessons for Schools

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By guest blogger Chelsea Boone

Making headlines last week is the unprecedented case of two Florida girls being charged with aggravated stalking, a third-degree felony, in relation to the suicide of their schoolmate 12-year-old Rebecca Sedwick, who jumped to her death after being cyberbullied.

Rebecca was targeted by the two girls, ages 12 and 14, for about ten months on the Internet, including Facebook, and jumped off a silo at an abandoned cement plant on September 9. Following her death, the elder girl posted a status on her Facebook account saying, "Yes ik [I know] I bullied REBECCA nd she killed her self but [I don't care]," which prompted the arrests.

What does this mean for schools?

While federal criminal laws do not directly address bullying, many states have developed their own anti-bullying laws, and when bullying overlaps with harassment, federally funded schools are obligated by federal law to get involved and resolve the harassment issue.

Under some federal civil rights laws, schools are required to address harassment that is severe, pervasive or persistent, creates a hostile environment at school that interferes with learning, or is based on a student's race, color, national origin, sex, disability, or religion.

Once a school receives a harassment complaint, it must be investigated immediately, the targeted students, offenders, and witnesses must be interviewed and the interview must be documented, and the school must communicate with the targeted student to determine how to end that harassment and follow up to determine whether or not the harassment has ceased. The ways to resolve a harassment complaint will vary depending on the specifics of each case.

Image: Pallbearers wearing anti-bullying t-shirts carry the casket of Rebecca Sedwick,12, to a waiting hearse as they exit a funeral home last month in Bartow, Fla. Two girls have been arrested by Florida authorities, who allege that Sedwick was harassed so much by the teens that she jumped to her death from an abandoned concrete silo. —Brian Blanco/AP

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