May 8, 2014
It is no surprise that state lawmakers are including cyberbullying in their anti-bullying laws. There is no shortage of tragic news stories where online bullying was alleged to be a contributing factor in a suicide (see, for example, Florida girls charged with a felony in cyberbullying death, online hoax led to teenage girl’s suicide, bullied Canadian teen commits suicide after prolonged battle online and in school). It only takes seconds for a text message, email, or post on social media to reach a potentially unlimited audience. In response to some of these tragic events, states have begun updating their anti-bullying laws. States differ, however, in how they approach cyberbullying.
Every state except Montana already has some form of antibullying statute, and in 48 states, these statutes already include electronic harassment. Twenty-one states now include the term cyberbullying in their anti-bullying statutes, and 12 states include behavior that occurs off school campus. The Cyberbullying Research Center keeps a fairly up-to-date and comprehensive chart showing what each state provides in its antibullying statutes, including several states that provide criminal sanctions. Listed below are links to current laws that use the term cyberbullying.
Constitutional issues with cyberbullying laws
While adding cyberbullying to antibullying statutes addresses one issue, it may raise another. Some opponents of cyberbullying laws have concerns that the laws will impermissibly restrict First Amendment Free Speech rights, especially when the conduct occurs off campus. Cases addressing free speech by students provide that although students do have free-speech rights, students do not have the right to interfere with or disrupt school discipline or activities and rights of other students to be secure. See Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, 393 U.S. 503 (1969), which first provided this limitation. See also Nixon v. Hardin County Board of Education, 2013 WL 6843087 (W.D. Tenn.), for a discussion of recent cases addressing student free speech, in particular cases involving off-campus online speech. In Nixon, a middle school student sued the school for violation of her rights after she was disciplined for off-campus threats on a social media site that were directed at another student. The court denied the school’s motion for summary judgment on the First Amendment claims, finding there were still fact issues as to whether the actions substantially disrupted school activities. Stay tuned.
For a more in-depth look at the recently enacted Minnesota cyberbullying law (effective July 1, 2014), click here.
Enacted legislation that includes “cyberbullying” in US states and territories
A.C.A. § 5-71-217 Cyberbullying
C.G.S.A. § 10-222j Training re prevention, identification and response to school bullying and youth suicide
14 Del.C. § 4112D School bullying prevention
West’s F.S.A. § 1006.147 Bullying and harassment prohibited
17 G.C.A. § 3112.1 Policy Against Bullying
K.S.A. 72-8256 Bullying, school district policies
LSA-R.S. 14:40.7 Cyberbullying
20-A M.R.S.A. § 6554 Prohibition on bullying in public schools
M.G.L.A. 71 § 37O School bullying prohibited; bullying prevention plans
M.S.A. § 121A.031 School student bullying policy
V.A.M.S. 160.775 Anti-bullying policy required–definition–requirements
N.R.S. 388.123 “Cyber-bullying” defined
N.H. Rev. Stat. § 193-F:4 Pupil Safety and Violence Prevention
N. M. S. A. 1978, § 22-2-21 Bullying and cyberbullying prevention programs
McKinney’s Education Law § 13 Dignity for All Students: Policies and guidelines
N.C.G.S.A. § 14-458.2 Cyber-bullying of school employee by student; penalty
O.R.S. § 339.356 Mandatory policy on harassment, intimidation and bullying
T. C. A. § 49-6-4503 School district policies
V.T.C.A., Education Code § 37.218 Programs on Dangers of Students Sharing Visual Material Depicting Minor Engaged in Sexual Conduct
U.C.A. 1953 § 53A-11a-301 Bullying, cyber-bullying, harassment, hazing, and retaliation policy
VA Code Ann. § 22.1-276.01 Pupils; Discipline; Definitions
West’s RCWA 28A.300.285 Harassment, intimidation, and bullying prevention policies and procedures–Model policy and procedure–Training materials–Posting on web site–Rules–Advisory committee