New State law gives school districts reach to punish cyberbullying

The Jessica Logan Act contains language against cyberbullying.

The Jessica Logan Act, H.B. 116, was signed into law in January and schools must update their antibullying policies by November to reflect the changes. The changes include new language addressing so-called cyberbullying, in which harrassment or intimidation is achieved using a cellphone, home computer or other electronic device. The law gives schools the authority to discipline offending students even if the offense occurred off school grounds and did not involve school property.

Legislation trying to keep up with new technologies has churned up some murky legal waters for schools, parents and students. Challenges to such laws already have landed in courts across the nation, and the outcomes have not been consistent, said Holly Reedy, attorney for the Ohio School Boards Association.

In April, Reedy will address cyberbullying using specific examples from Facebook pages for an OSBA presentation entitled “Scandalous.”

Reedy said the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately may have to resolve the confusion because the courts have not been consistent in defining how far a school can reach without violating a student’s privacy or free speech rights.

“There are limits on what a school can do,” Reedy said. “Everyone is looking at schools to prevent bullying. I don’t know if schools can prevent it 24 hours a day.”

Huber Heights Assistant Superintendent Sue Gunnell serves to help resolve appeals in disciplinary cases in her district. She said there already have been incidents in which students were disciplined for cyberbullying both on and off school grounds.

School administrators are expected to investigate any potential incidents of bullying, as well as teach students what bullying is and about appropriate online behavior. At Huber Heights, Gunnell said if the activity is negatively impacting a student’s educational environment, discipline against the at-fault student could range from Saturday school to suspension. If the behavior persists, expulsion procedures may be pursued, she said.

“We use the advantages that technology provides, but it also means we have to be watchful and educate students about appropriate use and expectations,” Gunnell said.

Parents who responded to the issue through Facebook were mostly against schools and the government overstepping its boundaries.

“Bullying is the very worst thing one child can do to another ... but schools are not judge and jury for what happens outside of school,” commented one parent.

The OSBA will be providing sample anti-bullying policies as early as May that local districts can use as a model.

Contact this reporter at (937) 225-6985 or Richard.Wilson@coxinc .com.

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