'For The Children' Cyberbullying Law Running Into Opposition From Groups Actually Concerned About Children

from the making-it-all-so-much-worse dept

A Texas cyberbullying law is running into unexpected opposition. The law [PDF], which would criminalize any “electronic harassment or bullying” of anyone under the age of 18, is intended to give schools more resources to deal with cyberbullying. Of course, the law would also extend schools’ reach beyond the confines of the campus, allowing them to take control of off-campus behavior.

It’s one thing if this was limited to disciplinary action by the school. It still would be an extension of government power, but at least the damage done would be limited to in-school punishments. (That’s still a significant amount of damage, considering school disciplinary actions cover things like extended suspensions and expelling students — neither of which do much to alter troubled students’ futures in any positive way.)

Turning this into a criminal act means schools will become even more instrumental in routing students into juvenile detention centers and local jails. This is what has advocates for the health and safety of children concerned.

Will Francis, the government relations director for Texas’ National Association of Social Workers, doesn’t necessarily think schools should be working so closely with the police. Instead, he said, the bill should focus on improving mental health resources in schools to address bullying before it becomes criminal.

“My concern is that we’ll just be sticking more kids with felonies,” said Francis, who says he’s been advising Menendez on the bill’s focus. “I worry we’ll see more schools in poorer, non-white areas using hard and fast punitive criminal justice as a solution.”

As schools have come to rely more and more on SROs (Student/School Resource Officers), the tendency has been to hand over almost every disciplinary matter to campus law enforcement officers. Routine student misconduct is being addressed with arrests, deployments of force, and prosecutors bringing criminal charges against students for behavior that previously would have resulted in detention, suspension, or a long conversation between administrators and the student’s parents.

Right now, Texas schools are employing twice as many police officers as counselors, according to numbers obtained by the San Antonio Current. The disciplinary playing field is already slanted towards law enforcement. Turning bullying into criminal activity makes this ratio more harmful. If the state has a desire to produce better students, this law isn’t going to help it achieve its goal. If it’s more interested in creating a new (and profitable) set of criminals, this expansion of power will definitely help that dream come true.

It’s not just the lack of resources for mental health issues that’s a problem. It’s also the overreach itself. As the EFF points out, giving schools jurisdiction over students’ off-campus activities infringes on their Constitutional rights.

“We believe — and most courts agree — that schools are very limited when it comes to punishing off-campus student speech,” [EFF attorney David] Greene said. Student speech is still protected by free speech laws, regardless of how cruel and unusual it is — especially when they’re off-campus.


“There’s no rule in the First Amendment for speech that causes harm for a minor,” he said. “If they want to pass these protections, it will have to fit within current laws.”

While there is definitely much to be done to address student bullying — and there’s no denying this has become easier and more prevalent with the rise of multiple social media platforms — the solutions lie in better resources for bullied students and those who engage in bullying. While the outcome of sustained bullying sometimes results in truly horrific tragedies (as is the case here), criminalizing this behavior will only result in a greater number of destroyed futures.

The law — which is still in its proposal stage — promises to do both: criminalize off-campus behavior and bring in more resources to help schools deal with bullying. But it gives school resource officers subpoena power to unmask anonymous social media users and, due to the criminalization of the act, encourages schools to rely more on law enforcement and less on counseling or diversion programs for perpetrators that may allow them to turn themselves around and contribute positively in their new environments.

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Comments on “'For The Children' Cyberbullying Law Running Into Opposition From Groups Actually Concerned About Children”

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art guerrilla (profile) says:

my two centavos...

better half is an heroic teacher shoveling sand against the tide with a teaspoon…
in a poor school w lots of minorities; the teachers are CONSTANTLY put in a damned if you do, damned if you dont situation : if they ‘report’ the kids for shitty behavior, then the principle gets upset that they are reporting too many kids, and it ‘looks bad’…
if they don’t report them, they disrupt the classes such that actual teaching/learning is negligible… not to mention, admin will back down from punishing or expelling kids since they then don’t get any money for them when not in school…
compounded by the de facto ‘separate AND unequal’ treatment of having a ‘quality’ school within a school where mostly white kids get away with the same shitty behavior the black kids get jacked up for… frankly, a lot of the white kids and parents know how to ‘play the game’, say the right conciliatory bullshit/lies, and worm out of consequences; homies don’t play that game…

Anonymous Coward says:

Every Law EVER!!!

This will benefit the innocent and allow us to go after the criminals.

Criminals work the system and the innocent become ensnared. The innocent often consider themselves to be without recourse before an unforgiving population and turn to crime.

Some thing should be against the law, but some people just need to get their bunched up panties out of their ass cracks!

When kids are involved… entire sections of the population need to chill the fuck out!

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

When parents refuse to parent meets well someone should do something.

Once upon a time, students would face detention or a parental meeting. Of course now parents more often than not insist their special snowflake would never punch another kid in the head & that video doesn’t tell the whole story. The kid who was punched obviously did SOMETHING horrible & should be punished but not their child.

Schools should not be put into a position where funding is threatened because there are issues happening. They should be involved in teaching the children not only the 3 R’s but how to get along with others.
But we can’t have sportsball stars facing punishment, we might lose a game.
We can’t have girls hitting puberty & using their breasts to distract good boys.
We can’t blame boys for assaulting girls, boys will be boys.
We can’t risk a lawsuit, so we bring the cops in.
We can’t explain to cops that the school beat isn’t a prime time crime drama where someone needs to be in jail in 22 minutes.
We can’t fund our library, because some parents feel they have the right to dictate what all children get to read.
We can’t fund science, because some parents feel that their deeply held religious beliefs demand equal time.
We can’t upset people by ignoring their pet complaint.

Mean girls have bullied others long before their were computers, adding cyber doesn’t make it worse. What makes it worse is parents & other adults jumping up declaring this is something very different that needs a different legal response.
Sometimes the snowflake needs detention.
Sometimes the snowflake needs suspension.
Sometimes the parents screaming about how it’ll keep the snowflake from a good college at the school should explain that to the snowflake. That if you behave like this, there are consequences to your actions & we aren’t going to blindly look away & pretend you are perfect.

Lists fix nothing, and somehow this message hasn’t made it into thick skulls.

Do Not Fly List – because an 8 month old COULD be a terrorist.
Sex Offender List – because someone who peed in an alley deserves the same treatment as someone who raped a child.
Cyberbully List – because creating a list you can get your target on when they decide to fight back will work out well.
Members of Congress – because being on this list tends to prove they respect money more than people.

Eldakka (profile) says:

Start training them young

What better way to start a police state and train the masses to accept it than by starting young? In the schools, get children used to having the police on every corridor corner. That there is no such thing as a minor infringement that can be dealt with by standard school punishments, detention, suspension, not allowing them to take place in other school activities (sports etc). Every infringement is criminal and must be dealt with by the police.

Training has started for our future police-state society.

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