Saugerties Board of Education member Angie Minew last week criticized legislation proposed by Ulster County Executive Michael Hein that would make cyberbullying a crime, saying that as it’s currently written, the proposed law was flawed.
In Hein’s proposal earlier this year, anyone found guilty of cyberbullying — spreading personal information or making hurtful comments about minors on social media and other electronic platforms — could be hit with up to a $1,000 fine, face up to a year in jail, or possibly both. The proposal was withdrawn to allow for further review, but while Minew said cyberbullying legislation is “not ultimately a bad thing,” she took umbrage with information in Hein’s initial pass.
“[Hein] did have it to where it was a $1,000 fine, and it was actually penalizing children as young as elementary school, and it was punishable by a misdemeanor,” Minew said at March 8’s school board meeting. “There will eventually become a law for cyberbullying. It will work with the districts. It will help to prevent and protect the kids that this is happening to. It’s not ultimately a bad thing. However the way the law was written, a $1,000 fine and a misdemeanor for an eight-year-old that may not know what they are doing is a little excessive. My theory with bringing this up tonight was that maybe some parents may want to just pay better attention to what is going on in the county before it hits our district.”
According to the statement of “legislative intent” included with the law, the proposal is intended to address a range of behaviors, from online rumor spreading to “sexting,” that have become a dismayingly common part of the middle and high school experience. The county law would make a number of bullying behaviors, if perpetrated via the Internet, text message or other electronic platforms, a misdemeanor crime punishable by fines up to $1,000 and up to a year in county jail. The banned behaviors include transmitting “information not of public concern and the actor knows or reasonably should know that such communication will inflict emotional harm on the minor.” The law also punishes the transmission of “private sexual information” — whether true or false — about a minor, as well as appropriating a minor’s name or likeness online or posting explicit photos of minors.
But while Minew said she brought it up to ensure parents keep an eye on what’s on the horizon at the county level, Deputy County Executive Kenneth Crannell was quoted as saying in an interview with the Daily Freeman that publicly criticizing a proposed law that had yet to be submitted to lawmakers for review was out of line.
“How many eight-year-olds do we have incarcerated in the Ulster County Jail?” Crannell was quoted as saying. “The answer is zero.” Crannell was also quoted as saying Minew misunderstood how the proposed law related to the state’s Dignity for All Students Act (DASA), which handles how schools respond to cyberbullying.
In a letter in this week’s Saugerties Times, Minew issued a blistering retort to Crannell. “I am fully aware of what DASA is and how it works and also fully aware of what the juvenile court system would do with the poorly constructed proposed piece of legislation your office produced,” she wrote. “By the way my interpretation is correct. I do not have to CYA I speak the truth and do my homework! Which is exactly why Mike Hein’s poorly constructed piece of legislation didn’t move anywhere and will not!”
County officials said that the proposal should be ready for review by the legislature in May, and school district superintendents had already been given a more complete review of the proposal than what was presented by Hein in January.
With additional reporting by Jesse J. Smith