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School districts chafing at cyberbullying liability should have heeded the "Spider-Man Rule"

(12/23/10 4:08pm)

The U.S. Department of Education's broadside warning that school districts may violate federal civil-rights law if they fail to prevent "cyberbullying" is provoking some pushback from the nation's school districts. The chief legal counsel for the National School Boards Association, Francisco Negron, told the DOE earlier this month that the Department's recent reinterpretation of the Title IX of the Civil Rights Act dangerously lowers the threshold for holding schools liable for student-on-student harassment. In a Dec.

Parents drop discrimination lawsuit with student newspaper connection

(07/14/11 12:20pm)

The parents of a former middle school student have dropped a discrimination lawsuit that was based in part on the family's objections to a student newspaper column. Caroline Lineen, attorney for Mahopac Central School District, said that the plaintiffs, the parents of then-middle school student “H.B.”, suddenly chose to withdraw the complaint without explanation.

Why Time Magazine is wrong about New Jersey's cyberbullying law

(09/12/11 12:54pm)

In the latest edition of Time Magazine, author and Yale law professor Adam Cohen presents an overly simplistic portrayal of New Jersey's new "cyberbullying" law as a "model" for the nation. Cohen's method of analysis, which typifies the reasoning of many state legislators, can be reduced to this: "Bullying is a big problem.

Louisiana bullying frenzy -- violating the First Amendment, or just trying to?

(05/29/12 9:24am)

In the waning days of their 2012 session, Louisiana legislators have the unappetizing choice between two anti-bullying bills: One that violates the Constitution, and another that is intended to. To understand how thoroughly cyberbullying hysteria has taken hold of state legislators, consider the disappointed comments of state Rep.

Louisiana bullying bill declares "making faces" and "shunning" grounds for discipline

(06/06/12 8:18pm)

In the ebbing days of their legislative session, Louisiana legislators approved a sweeping ban on "cyberbullying" that raises significant constitutional questions because it extends to such behavior as "making faces," "spreading untrue rumors" and "shunning." Senate Bill 764 by Sen.

Texas students, arrested for creating fake Facebook profile, released from juvenile facility

(07/31/12 5:54pm)

The two young girls arrested for creating a fake Facebook page and posing as a classmate have been released from the Granbury Regional Juvenile Justice Center in Texas, the local director of juvenile probation said Tuesday. Director Beth Pate could not, however, say when the girls were released, and it was unclear how long they spent in the juvenile facility. The girls, ages 12 and 13, were each arrested July 16 on a count of online impersonation, a third-degree felony, said Hood County Sheriff Roger Deeds.

Back in session, state lawmakers introduce new legislation on cyberbullying

(01/23/13 6:47pm)

With the start of a new legislative session in many statehouses, cyberbullying has reappeared on the radar this month. Legislators in four states have all proposed bills that either amend the definition of "bullying" or require school boards to implement policy regarding cyberbullying and other forms of harassment. States with pending legislation on issues of bullying and cyberbullying include: Alaska: A proposal to amend the state's bullying law to include electronic as well as in-person communications. New Mexico: Another proposal to include cyberbullying as a form of bullying, as well as a requirement for school boards to implement a "cyberbullying prevention policy" by August 2013. New York: A proposal to revise the state's newly enacted 2012 cyberbullying law to define cyberbullying as "a repeated course of communication, or repeatedly causing a communication to be sent, by mechanical or electronic means, posting statements on the internet or through a computer network with no legitimate communication purpose which causes alarm or serious annoyance, or is likely to cause alarm or serious annoyance." Virginia: Clarifies the term "bullying" and requires districts to enact anti-bullying policies not just involving student-on-student conduct but also bullying of school employees by other employees. It is difficult to characterize cyberbullying legislation as a free speech issue because of the understandable public sympathy over bullying's influence on young people.

Ninth Circuit gives school officials (limited) license to punish students' threatening online speech

(09/05/13 2:07pm)

Whether public schools can regulate students' off-campus speech just as if the speech occurred on campus is a recurring legal issue that will arise with increasing frequency now that state legislatures are putting schools into the business of policing online bullying. The Ninth Circuit U.S.

Student's "lewd" video about teacher provokes errant Wisconsin ruling applying "online harassment" law

(02/23/14 9:32pm)

Can derogatory remarks about a teacher be both constitutionally protected speech and also punishable as harassment? A Wisconsin appeals court appears to believe so. The Wisconsin Supreme Court is being asked to take up the case of "Kaleb K.," a 15-year-old student from Stevens Point, Wisc., who was arrested after posting a homemade rap on YouTube filled with profane, degrading language about his Spanish teacher. In September 2012, a juvenile-court judge declared Kaleb delinquent on the grounds of violating state criminal statutes against disorderly conduct and unlawful use of a computer communications system. In a ruling last November, the state Court of Appeals threw out the disorderly conduct charge, finding that Kaleb's lyrics, though distasteful, were not threatening, obscene or otherwise outside the boundaries of the First Amendment. But the court then went on to uphold the conviction under the state's computer-harassment law, which makes it a misdemeanor if a speaker "sends a message to [a] person on an electronic mail or other computerized communication system" that contains lewd or profane language "with the intent to harass, annoy, or offend." It's possible to harass someone even with a constitutionally protected message if the speech is delivered in an especially harassing manner.

Appeals court throws out Iowa student's "name-calling" conviction

(04/22/14 2:29pm)

The justice system increasingly is being asked to intercede in unpleasant social interactions involving young people that, once upon a time, used to get settled through a stern lecture and a parental conference. In Pennsylvania, police charged a 15-year-old with the crime of "disorderly conduct" for secretly recording students bullying him during school, a case that prosecutors recently withdrew after a public outcry. And in Iowa, an Allamakee County high school student was hauled into juvenile court and adjudicated "delinquent," the equivalent to a conviction in adult criminal court, for insulting remarks ("you fat, skanky bitch") that she yelled at a rival student while exiting the school bus. In a victory for judicial restraint, the Iowa student's case was overturned April 16 by the Iowa Court of Appeals, which reached the common-sense decision that not every upsetting remark can be criminalized as "harassment." In its ruling, the Court of Appeals found that Iowa's criminal harassment statute -- which outlaws speech that is intended, without legitimate purpose, to "threaten, intimidate or alarm" -- cannot be violated by mere insults.