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WASHINGTON – As the Internet and wireless devices play increasingly important roles in the lives of children and teens, and as dangers such as “sexting” and “cyberbullying” become increasingly prevalent, U.S. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) today unveiled legislation that would support and develop programs nationwide to educate schoolchildren, teachers and parents about keeping the Internet safe for children and teens.

The School And Family Education about the Internet (SAFE Internet) Act will create a grant program to support existing and new Internet safety education programs that meet guidelines based on the cybersafety strategies found to be most effective. In announcing the bill, the lawmakers were joined by Cynthia Logan, who has become a nationally-known Internet safety advocate after her daughter Jessie took her own life following a sexting incident; Miss Utah 2008, Kayla Barclay, whose platform is Internet safety; Parry Aftab, executive director of WiredSafety; and Judi Westberg Warren, CEO of Web Wise Kids.

Senator Menendez said: “The way to meet the challenges and opportunities the Internet presents isn't to deny our children access to this great resource but to make sure they know how to use it wisely. Just as we make sure our children know not to talk to strangers, not to bully kids on the playground, and not to give out their personal information, we have the same responsibility to teach them to apply these values online. That’s why I’m introducing this bill to make Internet safety the strong federal priority it should be.”

Congresswoman Wasserman Schultz, a mother of three young children under 10, said: “The Internet has opened up the world for our children, but it has also opened up our children to the world. Educating children must be our first line of defense to keep them safe from the dangers of online predators, cyber-bullies, ‘sexting,’ and other online dangers. This bill will help fund high quality, engaging, and age-appropriate Internet safety education programs to teach our children how to be smart and safe online and reduce their risk of being victimized by Internet crime.”

Cynthia Logan said: “My daughter, Jessie, sought the help from her school when a picture meant only for her boyfriend was shared with everyone. She took her own life after no one would help her stop the harassment. The SAFE Internet law will help teach schools how to respond when one of their students is victimized online. I want to thank Senator Menendez and Rep. Wasserman Schultz for caring about our children.”

Kayla Barclay said: “My goal as Miss Utah is to help make our families safer online. I have become a WiredSafety Ambassador to help spread the ‘what were you thinking?’ message to high school and college students. The SAFE Internet bill will make my job easier by giving schools, families and students themselves the information and tools they need to make smart choices online.”

Parry Aftab, Executive Director of Wired Safety said: “It takes a cybervillage to keep our kids safe online - engaged industry leaders, connected schools, empowered parents, attentive law enforcement, informed kids and responsive policymakers. The SAFE Internet law brings all stakeholders together and encourages them to collaborate to deliver effective programs. Programs with merit will finally get the support they deserve. We’ve waited years for this. Thank you.”

Judi Westberg Warren, CEO of Web Wise Kids, said: “Web Wise Kids applauds Senator Menendez and Congresswoman Wasserman Schultz for their leadership in sponsoring this bill and recognizing the critical importance of programs to keep children safe in a cyber world. Today’s digital world presents a tremendous opportunity for innovation but also significant challenges to keep children safe. Our kids' futures depend on their understanding and leveraging technology in a smart way. We urge swift passage of this legislation which will help prevent online victimization of millions of children.”

Jim Steyer, CEO and founder of Common Sense Media, said: “The Internet and digital media are already an integral part of our kids’ lives. That means it’s up to all of us – parents, educators and policymakers – to provide the best possible tools to help them become great digital citizens and to help them make smart, safe choices about the media they consume and create. Technology is here to stay and this legislation is a great way to make sure kids have the tools they need for the future.”

School And Family Education about the Internet Act (SAFE Internet) Act

Short summary: This bill would establish an Internet safety education grant program. It would initially fund research to determine best practices in Internet safety education and create guidelines for the grants. Then, using those guidelines, grants would be awarded to the following eligible recipients:
1. a partnership between a State Educational Agency (SEA) and one or more Local Education Agencies (LEA); or
2. a LEA of a State; or
3. a non-profit organization; or
4. a partnership between a nonprofit organization and –
a. one or more SEAs; or
b. one or more LEAs; or
c. a consortium of schools.

For the following purposes:
1. identify, develop, and distribute Internet safety education programs, including, but not limited to, educational technology, multimedia applications, online resources, and lesson plans;
2. provide professional training in Internet safety and Internet media literacy to teachers, administrators, and other staff;
3. develop youth online risk prevention programs;
4. train and support peer-driven Internet safety education initiatives;
5. coordinate and fund research initiatives that investigate youth online risks and Internet safety education;
6. develop and implement media campaigns to promote awareness of youth online risks and Internet safety education; and
7. educate parents about identifying and protecting their children from online risks;

Grant applications that have one or more of the following characteristics will be prioritized in the selection process:
• are collaborative
• target at-risk children
• provide services at no-cost to schools
• accommodate multiple languages
• accommodate differing levels of technological sophistication
• have a plan to continue program after grant funds run out

Funding: Authorized at $35 million per year from FY2010 through FY2014.

More details:
This legislation would authorize a five year grant program, under which each grant will be awarded for a two year period. Grant guidance and awards will be administered by the DOJ, in concurrence with the Department of Education, and the Department of Health & Human Services (the applicable agency heads), and in consultation with education, Internet safety, and other relevant experts. This grant guidance will also be in line with established principles and research-based recommendations as provided in the Act. The applicable agency heads shall contract with an independent research organization to conduct an initial investigation of current Internet safety education programs and youth online risk.

This research group shall have 3 months to report the following:
1. The nature and prevalence of current Internet safety education programs and any evidence-based research conducted on them already;
2. Findings regarding at risk children; and
3. Any other area the applicable agency heads shall require.
This research group shall also identify gaps in Internet safety education and youth online risk research.

As the grant administration process continues, and as the appropriation level permits, the applicable agency heads shall contract with the research organization to continue research in the identified gap areas. The research organization shall report its findings back to the applicable agency heads and the findings shall be included in the Final Report to Congress.

Funds appropriated under the grant program may also be used to support media awareness campaigns, which will be another way to disseminate the research and messages out to schools, parents, teachers, and kids.

This Final Report will use this research, grantee reports, and testimony from hearings, to further refine best practices in Internet safety. The goal is to use independent, more comprehensive research and objective studies of the effectiveness of individual Internet safety programs to confirm what really works, and what protects children best.

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