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Thursday, May 5, 2016

Cyberbullying outlawed in Missouri

Thursday, March 12, 2009

MISSOURI -- There will be no more cyberbullying in Missouri. This comes after former Gov. Matt Blunt signed a bill last summer outlawing cyberbullying in Missouri.

The bill was signed just miles from where a 13-year-old girl committed suicide nearly two years ago after being harassed on the Internet.

Thayer High School Principal Kevin Hedden said the Thayer R-11 School District has a Technology Usage plan in place.

"Use of the school district's technology resources is a privilege, not a right. No student, employee or other potential user will be given an ID password or other access to district technology if he or she is considered a security risk," Hedden said,

All technology users at Thayer High School must have an appropriately signed user agreement on file with the district before they are allowed access to district technology resources. "All users must agree to follow the district's policies, regulations and procedures," he said.

"Our school district monitors and operates a technology protection measure on all our computers with Internet access, as required by law. We also have a bullying policy that includes cyberbullying or cyber threats. Cyberbullying is sending or posting harmful text or images using the Internet or other digital communication devices. Cyberthreats are online materials that threaten or raise concerns about violence against others, suicide or self-harm," Hedden said.

He said cell phones are also banned in the school building until after 3 p.m. in the afternoon.

The bill updates state laws against harassment by removing the requirement that the communication be written or over the telephone. Supporters say the bill now covers harassment from computers, text messages and other electronic devices.

"Social networking sites and technology have opened a new door for criminals and bullies to prey on their victims, especially children," Blunt said. "This new law will ensure that we have the protections and penalties needed to safeguard Missourians from Internet harassment." Megan Meier's suicide prompted the bill. She killed herself in October 2006, shortly after receiving mean-spirited messages over the Internet.

Meier's mother said she was grateful and was at the bill signing at the St. Charles Library, but she said more needs to be done to make sure children are kept safe. She wore a picture of her daughter in a pin on her dress.

"This is certainly not the end," she said. "Bullying and cyberbullying is something that takes place every day. This is not just one case with Megan."

Several towns across the state have adopted new ordinances aimed at stopping cyberbullying. The new law also requires school officials to tell police about harassment and stalking on school grounds and expands state laws against stalking to cover "credible threats" not only against the victim, but also against family members and animals. It also creates stronger penalties for cyberbullying.

Megan had suffered for a long time from depression and attention deficit disorder. In 2006 she began corresponding with "Josh" through My Space pages. At first the messages were positive. But after several weeks they turned mean. One message told her "Josh" no longer wanted to be friends.

Shortly after that, Megan hanged herself in her bedroom. She died the next day.

There was no boy named Josh. Law enforcement officials said a neighbor, Lori Drew, her teenage daughter and an 18-year-old employee of Drew created a fake profile of a attractive teenage boy to see what Megan was saying about her daughter online.

Drew, 49, pleaded not guilty in California, where MySpace is headquartered, to conspiracy and accessing computers without authorization.

On Nov. 27, 2008, a jury convicted Drew of three misdemeanor charges of computer fraud but rejected the felony charges against her. The jury was deadlocked on the conspiracy charges.

Meier has become a strong advocate of stopping Internet harassment she often speaks to schools and other groups. "It doesn't ease the pain, she said."

"For me, Megan is still my baby," her mother said. It touches my heart immensely to know the state of Missouri has worked so hard to honor my daughter and other families."

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