A new crackdown on cyberbullying can trigger serious new sanctions for offenses that previously were outside the bounds of school discipline.
Under the rules adopted this month, cyberbullies now face mandatory suspensions, possible expulsions and police investigations.
The new Student Code of Conduct treats cyberbullying offenses with the same severity as burglary, aggravated assault and other crimes.
"There's plenty of evidence that bullying increases the risk for school failure, for substance abuse and later criminal activity," says psychologist Dr. Bennett Levanthal, explaining that four of every 10 children are the victims of some kind of bullying.
But, he said, the children doing the bullying are at the highest risk.
In Dupage County, school officials and prosecutors are joining together in a new anti-bullying task force. During their first meeting Thursday, the group sought to improve its definition of bullying and develop strategies to address bullying problems before they start.
Dupage County States Attorney Joe Birkett commends the new Chicago cyberbullying rules and says his group will look at them as a possible basis for its work. Birkett helped develop the county’s rules for school investigations, rules that include mandatory reporting to police. He says the crimes shouldn’t be treated any differently because they take place on the internet.
"It’s still disorderly conduct," he said. "Its still harassment."