The bill extends the right of schools to expel or suspend students who participate in an “electronic act” of bullying. Instead of just situations directly related to school events, any form of electronic bullying can be seen as reason enough for punishment.
“Electronic acts” of bullying include, but are not limited to, telephone, computer, or communication device interactions. So text conversations, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram would all be fair game for citation.
This bill has received a largely positive reaction so far. As revealed by Open States, which records states’ legislative actions, the final vote for the bill passed almost unanimously in the state Senate in a 37-2 vote.
However, there is a substantial opposition group against the new law. The major claim against it is an intrusion into the private online lives of students.
Although there is something to be said about protecting online privacy, especially with the increasing abuse of electronic communications evident from the NSA scandal, this is not the issue over which to fight that battle.
Cyber-bullying has become a more and more evident risk to teenagers as society has developed an overall larger online presence. With the advent of social media sites and the widespread use of text messages, individuals are now constantly connected to the Internet in one manner or another. And they often are met by some less-than-positive content.
A recent study by researchers at the University of Wisconsin found that there were approximately 15,000 bullying-related tweets being posted a day. And, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, California is the state with the highest level of bullying in the nation.
While this type of bullying is often recognized as an issue, there hasn’t historically been much done to solve it.
The old definition of “electronic acts” being limited to solely school-based events takes away almost any capability of schools to address cyber-bullying. It’s very simple for students to avoid school administrators online and keep their comments to non-school topics.
So, in order to actually give any teeth to the enforcement of online comments and interactions, it is necessary to involve the school with the private, online lives of students.
Beyond this, the amount that this newly expanded definition actually affects freedom is extremely restrained.
Although students can now be punished for bullying that is not connected to school, this doesn’t give school administrators the right to monitor every action that you take online.
As the bill doesn’t award schools the responsibility of monitoring private interactions, only the capability to punish those that it discovers, it would stand to reason that the main way that school officials would discover situations in which cyber-bullying occurs would be from information provided by one of the students involved.
Ultimately, AB-256 brings attention to an issue that sorely needs it, and creates a minimal infringement of online freedoms.
So there’s no need to worry that Mr. Coscarelli will be scanning anyone’s Facebook posts and messages on a regular basis for rude comments. But, at the same-time, private cyber-bullying will not go unrecognized.