A new law takes effect in North Carolina today that makes it a crime to bully your teacher. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-458.2 is a new law that makes it a crime for a student to use a computer with the intent to intimidate or torment a school employee.
Included in the list of offenses is posting private information about a teacher, posting a real or doctored image of a teacher, and signing the teacher up for junk mail lists.
While the legislature’s intent to protect teachers from inappropriate behavior and school violence should be applauded (see text of School Violence Prevention Act), some say the law goes too far.
The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina says it will mount a court challenge to change it, contending it threatens to chill students’ free speech rights. ALCU North Carolina Policy Director Sarah Preston stated “The reality is that I’m sure students have been complaining about their teachers for as long as there have been students and teachers. They’ve been writing it on bathrooms stalls or carving it into desks or whatever. Just because they post it online doesn’t make it suddenly any less protected,” Preston said Friday. “And since we treat 16- and 17-year-olds as adults, because they write something stupid on the Internet, they could actually face some jail time.” (See Cyberbullying Law Takes Effect Saturday).
The School Teacher’s Association suggests the law is necessary citing examples of student conduct the law is designed to prevent: “a sixth-grader who sent sexually explicit emails about a teacher to other students; a high school student who posted false allegations on Facebook about an instructor, saying the instructor had touched her inappropriately.” (See Cyberbullying Law Protects Teachers from Students).
The law also includes protections for teachers preventing magistrates from issuing arrest warrants for teachers without the approval of the district attorney.
The law makes it a misdemeanor to do these acts and includes penalties up to a $1,000 fine, jail time and transfer to another school.
Clearly, the nature of schools has changed and students are increasingly being threatened with criminal charges for conduct that we as a society did not consider “criminal” in the past. That funny drawing of “Ms. Smith” now posted to Facebook may now result in jail time!