Thursday, January 01, 2009

More states pass laws on cyber-bullying; how schools get involved is debated

The Washington Post is reporting on Jan. 1, on an “Around the Nation” page, that a large number of states are passing cyberbullying laws now, but remain in a quandary as to the role of public schools in enforcing them. The story, by Ashley Surdin, appears on p. A3, “In several states, a push to stem cyber-bullying: Most of the laws focus on schools,” link here.

The states with laws include Arkansas, Delaware, Idaho, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, and Washington. California has also passed a law authorizing public schools to suspend students credibly suspected of cyberbullying.

But there is controversy over whether schools should take action about Internet activity of students from their homes. Some say that this is beyond a school’s jurisdiction, and that responsibility belongs with parents or police. But, because of the omnipresence of the Internet, the practical effect of web postings can occur on school grounds and become a problem for school administrators. This would include attempts to harass teachers as well as students online.

An argument for involving the schools in enforcement is that schools need to be providing curricular instruction in how to use the Internet safely.

One problem is that some aspects of these laws could be subjective and hard to define. Infliction of emotional distress is often used as wording, and that could be open to interpretation. In some states, as noted already, there have been some prosecutions based largely on text messages.

Future implementations of such laws could involve danger to reputation, also a nebulous idea.

Teachers, including substitutes, have sometimes gotten into trouble for off-the-job web activity, with postings that they considered legitimate in their own contextual world, but that school administrators believe could affect their places as role models or that could entice or tempt students into dangerous behavior if they found the material online at home with search engines and could identify the teachers.

As a counter view, the ACLU states its position on anti-cyber-bullying legislation in a posting by James Tucker, Policy Counsel for the ACLU, “Free speech and ‘cyber-bullying’”, Jan. 15, 2008, link here.

Update: Jan. 5

Elizabeth Landau has a detailed article on CNN tonight about a finding that 54% of teens talk about sex and violence on Myspace. The link is here. Researchers are unsure of the implications of these findings but are concerned. They could also affect "reputation". At first glance, the findings seem inconclusive to me but I'll follow this more in the coming days and may have a more detailed post soon.

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