Off-campus bullying addressed by only 13 states
In a new study of state bullying laws and policies, only thirteen states authorize school districts to take action when off-campus behavior creates a hostile environment at school. The U.S. Department of Education report is titled “Analysis of State Bullying Laws and Policies” and was made public in December. You can see the full report here.
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan addressed a bullying summit in 2010 and commented that:
“Every child is entitled to feel safe in the classroom, in the hallways of school, and on the playground. Children go to school to learn, and educational opportunity must be the great equalizer in America. No matter what your race, sex, or zip code, every child is entitled to a quality education and no child can get a quality education if they don’t first feel safe at school.”
Although 46 states have bullying laws (traditional one-on-one, face-to-face bullying), fewer include electronic harassment known as cyberbullying. Far less use the word “cyberbullying” in their legislation.* The three states (Michigan, Montana and South Dakota) without any bullying laws have legislation pending as of December, 2011.
The report addresses the current debate among elected officials and educators on how best to reduce bullying in schools. Over the past twelve years school violence has become an urgent social, health and educational concern. Since the 1999 Columbine tragedy in Colorado, the focus on youth violence has intensified. Subsequent high-profile incidents of violent behavior has implicated bullying as an underlying cause.
The current challenge in education is in striking a balance between the duty to educate students in a safe, hostile-free environment and, at the same time, recognize the free speech rights of the same students. Courts across the country are split when it comes to deciding if school discipline for off-campus speech is excessive or even authorized under the law, or appropriate in addressing potential disruption on campus. States including Georgia, Massachusetts, Arizona, Delaware, Illinois, Florida, and Louisiana are a few of the thirteen states that allow school discipline for off-campus bullying that affects the school environment. Starting in 2012, Illinois authorizes public schools to expel students who make explicit threats on websites towards other students or school emplloyees. The issue has yet to be considered by the U.S. Supreme Court.
There are currently three cases** pending before the Supreme Court. Hopefully, one of them will be accepted for review. On October 31, 2011, the Court denied review of Avery Doninger’s case leaving the school’s discipline in place. Without guidance from the highest court in the land, lower courts will continue to rule for and against students and schools on the same set of facts. This leaves students, parents and educators in the dark when it comes to addressing social media and its impact on a teen’s life.
*For current research and figures, check out the Cyberbullying Research Center.