Why new laws to deal with bullying may not be the answer.
The state of Florida just enacted a new cyber bullying law. It gives Florida schools the authority to deal with cyber bullying off campus if it impacts a student’s life and therefore their ability to perform well in school. (see: http://jacksonville.com/news/health-and-fitness/2013-06-07/story/new-bullying-law-puts-focus-cyberbullying-school-and-home)
The problem is that while well intentioned, this law is a mess and is going to make it more difficult to address the problem it is designed to fix.
First, let’s consider the positives of this new law.
1) It give schools jurisdiction to handle bullying.
2) Makes it clear you can’t use free speech to stalk people.
On the negative side:
1) This law does create free speech issues
2) It muddies the waters about jurisdiction in criminal matters, giving schools authority over what are actually criminal behaviors, and
3) It redefines crimes like stalking, assault and defamation and calls them bullying WHEN they happen to kids.
Look, I am all for stepping up our protection of kids. But it seems to me this new law actually takes away a child’s right to police protection and puts them at the mercy of the schools that have no legal requirement to make sure the kids in their care are safe.
This isn’t to say schools don’t care. They do. But this law gives schools explicit jurisdiction over what may actually be a criminal matter and therefore better handled by the criminal justice system.
Very few schools are trained in how to conduct criminal investigations. Schools should be focused on education. Our criminal justice system should be focused on investigating crimes.
Kids deserve the same protections adults do. To diminish stalking and call it bullying just because it happens to a kid enables the stalker. To diminish assault and call it bullying because it happens to a kid online enables the person assaulting the kid to continue without repercussion.
The great thing about cyber bullying is because it is published, it’s traceable and there is evidence that the stalking or assault or defamation took place. To redefine those crimes so that children no longer have access to legal remedies is inexcusable to me.
As well-meaning as some of these new laws are, the answer isn’t to give our schools more to do, but to make it clear that these are legal matters and that it IS the jurisdiction of the police to handle it.