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Illinois, Minnesota expand the scope of anti-bullying laws, seek to crack down on ‘cyberbullying’

by Tim Anderson ~ September 2014 ~ Stateline Midwest »
Over the past seven years, every state in the Midwest has established policies that aim to prevent bullying in the schools. But how detailed and far-reaching should these policies be? On that question, there is considerable variation among the states, especially in light of new laws now in place in Minnesota and Illinois.
In both of those states, the legislatures chose this year to significantly expand the role of states — and their local school districts — in bullying prevention and intervention.
New statutory language, for example, will have schools in Minnesota and Illinois investigating certain forms of bullying that occur off school grounds. In particular, lawmakers in these states are trying to crack down on “cyberbullying”: bullying behavior that takes place through the use of computers, smartphones or other electronic technologies.
Under Minnesota’s HF 826, such student behavior is now prohibited even it is done off-campus. Schools can intervene and punish students for any cyberbullying that “substantially and materially disrupts student learning or the school environment.”
Similarly, Illinois’ HB 4207 (signed into law in August) covers any cyberbullying incidents that affect the “educational process or orderly operation of a school.” Previously, the state’s ban on cyberbullying applied only to student activity in school.
Meanwhile, a separate anti-bullying measure passed in Illinois (HB 5707) will require more of local schools: for example, investigate cases within 10 days, designate staff members to receive anonymous reports of school bullying, protect student privacy, establish intervention strategies, and inform parents of the policies.
Minnesota’s new law is also much more detailed in what it asks of schools and school personnel, and it creates a new School Safety Technical Assistance Center within the state Department of Education. The center will gather data on bullying in Minnesota schools, help with teacher training, review best practices, and assist school districts in developing new anti-bullying policies.
Among the concerns raised about expanding state laws on bullying is that they are too broad in scope and will infringe on students’ free speech, particularly when states and schools try to regulate activities done outside of school and via electronic communication.
Sponsors of the bills in Illinois and Minnesota tried to address some of these concerns. A section of Minnesota’s HF 826, for example, says the anti-bullying provisions do not “interfere with a person’s rights of religious expression and free speech.”