In a move that has already sparked discussion among educators and civil rights advocates, North Carolina is set to become the first state to make student cyberbullying against educators a crime. The new law, which took effect on Dec. 1, charges students who harass their teachers or other school employees with a misdemeanor offense, with a maximum penalty of either 60 days in jail or a $1,000 fine.
The Associated Press reported that the 2012 School Violence Prevention Act passed through the North Carolina legislature with just one opposing vote. Advocates for the bill cited a number of incidents where students have received little to no penalty for online harassment, including a 2008 incident in which a student in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District created a fake Myspace profile that suggested the teacher was a pedophile.
And with districts across the nation launching 1-to-1 computing initiatives and getting more technology into the hands of underage students, supporters of the bill feel steps must be taken to prevent online harassment.
“The more access kids have to computers, we found that it was getting more pervasive,” Judy Kidd, an Independence High teacher and head of the Charlotte-based Classroom Teachers Association, told The Charlotte Observer.
Though many states have passed laws against student-on-student cyberbullying, Sarah Preston, policy director of The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina, said this is likely the first state law that penalizes harassment against educators with jail time.
“To our knowledge, this is the first law ever that has made it a criminal offense,” said Preston.
North Carolina’s ACLU chapter is opposed to the new law, saying it could threaten free speech and that it carries penalties that are too harsh. A two-page fact sheet outlining the concerns the ACLU has over the new bill is available online. This isn’t the first time the ACLU has been involved in student-on-teacher cyberbullying issues, as three high school students in San Francisco were suspended from school for cyberbullying after they wrote on a Tumblr page called “Scumbag Teachers.” The students have since been exonerated and the suspensions were removed from their records based on the argument that they were simply exercising their free speech rights when they wrote the online comments.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.