School Climate & Safety

State Cyberbullying Laws Range from Guidance to Mandate

By Michelle R. Davis — February 04, 2011 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Attention focused on cyberbullying and its impact on students has prompted many states to pass statutes intended to prevent or address online harassment. But those state laws are varied, and experts say they run the gamut from effective to window dressing—or possibly unconstitutional.

At least 44 states have anti-bullying laws on the books. Six of those include language that specifically mentions “cyberbullying,” and 31 states have anti-bullying laws that specifically mention “electronic harassment,” according to the Cyberbullying Research Center, which tracks such legislation.

But the laws differ widely in their scope.

For example, the Massachusetts anti-bullying law, adopted partly in response to the suicides of students Phoebe Prince and Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover, specifically refers to cyberbullying and mandates that teachers and other school staff members report bullying to the principal or another administrator. It also requires prevention and intervention training for staff and students in every grade and requires that state agencies publish guidelines and sample policies for schools. The Massachusetts law is considered one of the most comprehensive in the country.

In contrast, Colorado has adopted a “legislative declaration” of policy on bullying. It contains no wording pertaining specifically to cyberbullying, says Sameer Hinduja, a co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center, who is based in Jupiter, Fla. “It’s very vague,” he says. “Just because they have a policy, what does that mean?”

Francisco M. Negrón Jr., the general counsel for the National School Boards Association, based in Alexandria, Va., says state anti-bullying laws can play an important role in helping schools address cyberbullying. But when those laws mandate action on the part of schools without providing additional dollars, “it amounts to unfunded mandates, and that’s not the best way to make sure something happens,” Negrón says.

Hinduja says he’s equally concerned about laws, like Louisiana’s, that criminalize cyberbullying, because he thinks they go too far. Online harassers in that state over the age of 17 face a fine of up to $500 and six months in jail, while younger offenders get counseling. Creating criminal penalties for such behavior is not going to deter cyberbullying, Hinduja argues.

“You have to remember that they’re students and their development is immature, and they don’t consider ramifications,” he says. “We’re villainizing these adolescents for basically screwing up, and we’ve all screwed up.”

The Reach of the Law

And state laws do have to consider reach, Negrón says.

The Massachusetts anti-bullying law defines the type of bullying that schools must address as not only the events that take place on school property and at school-related functions with school equipment, but also bullying that takes place “at a location, activity, function, or program that is not school-related, or through the use of technology or an electronic device that is not owned, leased, or used by the school district.” Though the law states that this bullying should be addressed if it “creates a hostile environment at school for the victim,” Negrón says it’s an area that remains unclarified by the courts.

Though many states are finally looking more closely at the problem of cyberbullying, it’s disappointing that it is often a tragedy that prompts the effort, Hinduja says.

“Everyone opens up their wallets when there’s a suicide,” he says. “It’s very frustrating because those lives could have been saved.”

Early in January, New Jersey enacted a tough anti-bullying law, which mandates training and prevention programs for adults and students. School districts will be graded by the state on their efforts to combat cyberbullying. The bill was signed into law four months after Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi committed suicide after his roommate used a webcam to videotape a sexual encounter he had with a male student. The roommate then broadcast the recording on the Internet.

A version of this article appeared in the February 09, 2011 edition of Digital Directions as State Laws Run the Gamut

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Professional Development Webinar
Strategies for Improving Student Outcomes with Teacher-Student Relationships
Explore strategies for strengthening teacher-student relationships and hear how districts are putting these methods into practice to support positive student outcomes.
Content provided by Panorama Education
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Classroom Technology Webinar
Transform Teaching and Learning with AI
Increase productivity and support innovative teaching with AI in the classroom.
Content provided by Promethean
Curriculum Webinar Computer Science Education Movement Gathers Momentum. How Should Schools React?
Discover how schools can expand opportunities for students to study computer science education.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School Climate & Safety 'Swatting' Calls and Lockdowns: Tips for Schools to Ease the Anxiety and Disruption
How school administrators can prepare for lockdowns and restore calm.
4 min read
A male police officer in a dark blue uniform walks between two white police SUVs parked in front of a three-story, red brick school building.
A police officer patrolled Glennwood Elementary School in Decatur, Ga., while the school was on lockdown in 2018.
John Amis/AP
School Climate & Safety 'Swatting' Hoaxes Disrupt Schools Across the Country. What Educators Need to Know
School lockdowns can cause stress to students, teachers, and families, even if threats don't materialize.
8 min read
A bald man and a woman with long brown hair tearfully hug a teen girl who is wearing a pale beighe backpack. Three women look on with concerned expressions.
A family shares a tearful reunion after Thomas Jefferson High School in San Antonio, Texas, went into lockdown because of a false report of a shooting.
Kin Man Hui/The San Antonio Express-News via AP
School Climate & Safety How to Spend $1 Billion in School Safety Funds: Here's What the Feds Recommend
A "Dear Colleague" letter from the Education Department puts a priority on creating inclusive, equitable school environments.
4 min read
The U.S. Department of Education urged schools to use federal funds to support the social, emotional, mental, and physical health needs of students in a "dear colleague" letter sent Sept. 15.
Third grader Alexis Kelliher points to her feelings while visiting a sensory room at Williams Elementary School in Topeka, Kan.
Charlie Riedel/AP