School Staff Get New Protection from Online Bullying
Students complaining about their teachers is as old as education, but taking it too far will now be costly for those who post their insults online.
Passed last summer, the School Violence Protection Law of 2012 now makes it a crime for students to "intimidate or torment" their teachers via Internet postings. Violators can face a misdemeanor charge and a fine of up to $1,000 if they are found guilty.
The prohibitions against bullying teachers include building a fake online profile or website and posting or encouraging others to post "private, personal or sexual information pertaining to a school employee" on the Internet.
Posting a real or a doctored image of a school employee online is also illegal, as is accessing, altering or erasing "any computer network, computer data, computer program or computer software, including breaking into a password-protected account or stealing or otherwise accessing passwords."
Moore County Schools Superintendent Aaron Spence lauds the new law.
"In our strategic plan we talk about the need for schools to be a physically safe place where there is mutual respect between students and teachers," he said. "For someone sitting behind a computer screen, it's easy for one to feel he or she can say things that one wouldn't say in person.
"While we always need to be cautious about free speech, the law gives teeth to the idea that you can't bully others behind an online persona."
As Spence indicated, some organizations see the law as an inhibitor of free speech. One such group is the ACLU, which opposed the legislation as it was written.
"We expressed our concerns that this would chill online free speech because the words 'intimidate' and 'torment' weren't defined in the statute, and don't really have a clear definition in the law," said Sarah Preston, policy director for the ACLU in North Carolina. "We thought it was going too far."
Moore County Schools spokesman Tim Lussier said that the school system already has a policy in place that reflects the state law.
"The policy states the following: Bullying or harassing behavior is prohibited at all levels between students, between employees and students, between peers or co-workers, between supervisors and subordinates, or between non-employees and employees and/or students," Lussier said.
"Any person may report an act of bullying or harassment anonymously."
On reporting an incident, Lussier said that a school employee who has witnessed or has reliable information that a student or school employee has been subject to any act of bullying or harassing behavior "shall report the incident ... to the principal in the case of a student or to the immediate supervisor of the alleged bully or harasser or other appropriate school official in the case of an employee. Failure to make such a report may subject the employee to disciplinary action."
If the individual to whom a report under this policy is required to be made is the alleged bully or harasser, then the report should be made to that person's immediate supervisor or other appropriate school official, Lussier said.
In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Judy Kidd, president of the Classroom Teachers Association of North Carolina, said student cyberbullying of teachers has been a significant problem in the state.
She cited one student who sent sexually explicit emails about a teacher to other students, and a high school student who posted false allegations on Facebook that she had been "groped" by an instructor.
"It became apparent that we had to get some kind of protection," Kidd said.
Other prohibitions contained in the new law include using a computer for "repeated, continuing, or sustained electronic communications, including electronic mail or other transmissions to a school employee," making a statement "whether true or false" that is intended to "immediately provoke" anyone to "stalk or harass a school employee," and/or signing up a school employee for a pornographic website "with the intent to intimidate or torment the employee."
A Norton survey of 2,279 teachers in 24 countries has found that one in six educators report having experienced cyberbullying.
Contact John Lentz at (910) 693-2479 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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