In North Carolina, children and teens aren’t the only victims of bullying. On the Internet, teachers report being tormented and provoked by students.
As per a new law, cyberbullying with the “intent to intimidate or torment a school employee” is now a criminal misdemeanor. The School Violence Protection Law of 2012 that recently passed places teacher-bullying provisions in ink.
By holding students responsible for their actions online, supporters of the bill hope to curb harassment of school employees on the Internet.
One in six educators report experiencing cyberbaiting, according to a Norton survey of 2,279 teachers in 24 countries. In some instances, students attempt to provoke school employees to near-breakdown. It’s a growing phenomenon inside and outside the classroom.
The Classroom Teachers Association of North Carolina lobbied for the new law to protect teachers degraded by students. Faculty members are continually charged with false accusations by students, the non-profit group’s president Judy Kidd tells Mashable.
“We had students who were lying about teachers, then they were publishing things that were untrue,” says Kidd, a high-school teacher in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. “There was nothing there to have any recourse, yet teacher was the one who was suffering.”
In 2005, Justin Layshock, a senior in high school, created a Myspace profile and impersonated the head of school. The principal found the experience “demoralizing.” The western Pennsylvania-based student was found guilty of violating the school’s disciplinary code and spent the year in the Alternative Education Program, according to TIME magazine.
In many cyberbullying cases, false allegations against teachers are brought up by students using digital tools, according to Kidd. She believes with the rise of technology, precautions must be taken.
“It was extremely unfair for students to not receive some punishment for doing something that is so unjust,” Kiss says. “Students are becoming more and more brave. Therefore, I’d rather be ahead of the curve than behind the eight ball. It was happening way too much.”
The North Carolina law, passed in July, states it’s unlawful for students to act “with the intent to intimidate or torment a school employee.” Under this banner, students are banned from building a fake profile, encouraging friends to post “private, personal or sexual information about a school employee,” posting a real or doctored image, or continuously emailing an individual. The provisions also make it illegal for students to sign a school employee for junk electronic mail and/or pornographic Internet websites.
Under the law, students — as defined by the bill — could face fines up to $1,000, transfer to another school and jail time if found guilty.
Unlike the original School Violence Protection Act passed in 2009 (protecting students against bullying and discrimination), the law treats cyberbullying as a criminal misdemeanor in this case. The original School Violence Protect Act defined civil statutes, according to Carla Boles, assistant professor of law at Charlotte School of Law. The state’s schools were required to adopt anti-bullying policies in 2009. The policy prohibited harassment or discrimination against students based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
Critics of the new law believe the terms “torment” and “intimidate” aren’t clear-cut and leaves a lot of open space to get students in trouble. Sarah Preston, the policy director of the North Carolina American Civil Liberties Union, thinks with a lack of prior standards, there needs to be more definition.
“We thought the way it was written without definition for the words ‘torment’ and ‘intimidate’ would potentially chill online free speech,” Preston tells Mashable. The North Carolina ACLU suggests legislators define the kind of online conduct that would put “a reasonable person in fear of some kind of bodily injury or something like that.”
North Carolina-based attorney Boles believes the legislators were “very mindful” of preventing the inhibition of free speech. Students can still vent on social media about the classroom or homework without penalization, she says.
“It’s not supposed to inhibit free speech because you’re allowed to disagree with your teacher,” Boles says. “The law builds in a particular mental state that you have to have in addition to the act. You have to have the intent to intimidate or to torment a school employee. That’s a pretty high standard to meet.”
In The Wall Street Journal‘s initial report this week, the publication points out North Carolina is one of the first states to pass laws of this kind in the U.S. Boles believes we will see a slew of laws being passed, defining what is and isn’t legal behavior online.
“Unfortunately, you will see a lot more test cases or scenarios,” Boles says. “The laws are a little slow to catch up with technology. But yes, I think we are going to see a lot more laws being passed.”
Do you want laws defining cyberbullying against students or educators in your state? Share your thoughts in the comments.
Image courtesy of Flickr, Renato Ganoza