New laws let schools districts punish for cyberbullying

The Washington Post reported January 1st that “at least 13” states have passed new laws addressing cyberbullying. According to the article:

Most of the laws are aimed at school districts, requiring them to develop policies on cyber-bullying — for example, how to train school staff members or discipline students. At least 13 states have passed such laws, including Arkansas, Delaware, Idaho, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina and Washington. A handful of other states are considering similar measures.

A California law that went into effect January 1st “give[s] schools authority to suspend or expel students for bullying fellow students over the Internet, in text-messaging or by other electronic means.”

As Mike Heistand from the Student Press Law Center noted, with regards to policy proposals in West Burlington, Iowa, “[S]chool officials are [now] saying because of the pervasiveness of online speech, we need to have greater authority to control what students do when they’re off campus. It’s becoming a huge issue.”

In the Washington Post article, Aden Fine from the American Civil Liberties Union is quoted, saying:

The problem with these laws is that schools are now trying to control what students say outside of school. And that’s wrong. What students say outside of school — that’s for parents to deal with or other government bodies to deal with. …We have to keep in mind this is free speech we’re talking about.

Coming next: highlights from the comments sections as readers grapple with the desire to prevent cyberbullying and protect the free expression and education of students.

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