( – promoted by DocHoc)
Before beginning this conversation, I want to state that, as a young boy in the 60’s, I was the victim of bullying at school by boys larger and meaner than myself. From living it firsthand, I know what it is like to experience the dread of going to school knowing that I would suffer physical and emotional abuse. I have painful memories of those years because there was no one looking after me. I am very clear that school safety is an important issue and that bullying is something that should not be tolerated. To this end, Oklahoma has enacted the School Bullying Protection Act. State Senator Andrew Rice is proposing some additional legislation that would add cyber bullying to this act. Based upon my experiences, you might expect that I would support this act; but, I cannot just yet.
Senate Bill 152, proposed by Senate Democrat Andrew Rice, is a well intentioned piece of legislation that seeks to provide students with additional protection against bullying. The problem is, that it gives schools extra legal authority to regulate communications via, texts, phones and social media when these messages are not sent during school hours or with school equipment.
…which communication includes but is not limited to e-mail, instant messaging, social media, text messages, blogs, mobile phones, pagers, online games, and websites whether or not the conduct or communication originated at school or with school equipment or within official school hours...(SB 152 Section 1.3)
There are many types of communications that do not receive first amendment protection under federal law–and many states have added cyber bullying as an additional classification. The issue here is not that threatening communication should be protected under the first amendment, it should not. The problem is telling schools they have the obligation, jurisdiction, and extra legal authority to oversee the behavior of students beyond the end of the school day. Once school has ended, the responsibility of students should rest with their parents–and the legal system should an egregious behavior occur. Giving school districts additional authority to monitor students outside the bounds of the school day, is over reach.
Consider this. Would any argue that schools should have extra legal authority to act upon anonymous complaints(the bill allows incidences to be reported anonymously)over words exchanged between students at a church party? Or suppose that several school age boys and girls engage in smack talk behind a person’s back at some summertime pool party. Should offended parents call their local school district to report the matter? If we would not do this for face-to-face communications, we should not do this for social or electronic media–especially when the student is using their personal equipment and is not participating in a school function.
Some might argue, that Senator Rice’s bill seeks only to punish students who: (according to the bill Section 1.1.a-b-c-d)
- substantially interfere with a student’s educational opportunities,
- substantially disrupt the orderly operation of the school
At first, these would seem to be admirable provisions; but, a closer look reveals the vagueness of the statute. How much communication must take place to be considered substantial? What kind of communication will be considered as disruptive by the school? What kind of communication will be considered as interfering of an educational opportunity? These terms are easier to define in a classroom setting–but less so outside of the classroom. It is the vagueness of these terms that will give rise to abuse by school administrators.
I am a school administrator and have been involved in teaching all of my life. I support our schools; but, I also have to admit the long and embarrassing record of schools who would deprive students of their first amendment rights over the pettiest of reasons. These include unflattering remarks about schools in personal blogs, underground newspapers, hearsay statements, and personal disagreements between students and administrators. For more information, I encourage you visit the Student Press Law Center or The Fire. These sites will amply demonstrate the arbitrariness of many schools, under the guise of laws such as SB152, to punish those who disagree or embarrass them.
In my opinion, cyber bullying is an action that should not be tolerated. When it occurs during the school day or with school equipment, it should be punished. And, students should be encouraged to go to their school’s counselors to report instances that they know about so that help can be rendered if needed or necessary. These would be efforts in the right direction. However, once this law is passed, if it’s passed, I am confident that cyber bullying will come to be a catch all term that will overstep the bounds of free speech. I encourage Senator Rice to amend SB152 in such a way as to not give extra legal authority to schools outside of the school day now and to protect students against vagueness and the hypersensitivity of school officials who would use this act, in its present state, to punish or avoid being scrutinized or criticized.