Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Ind. Bill Threatens Students' Online First Amendment Rights

Be against cyberbullying.
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
H.B. 1015, introduced by Indiana Rep. Eric Koch (R-Bedford), further empowers school principals to combat off-school cyberbullying or endangers students' online First Amendment rights, depending on one's viewpoint.

The Gannett-owned daily (Lafayette, Ind.) Journal & Courier ( this week reported the proposed measure builds on Indiana's anti-cyberbullying statute [Ind. Code Sec. 35-45-2-2], which prohibits electronic harassment of a person through an obscene communication. H.B. 1015 would allow school administrators to discipline students' out-of-school online doings that run afoul of school purposes or educational function. The broad legislation punishes tortious acts, such as defamation, and juvenile acts, which the Indiana Code does not specifically define, thereby granting principals wider wiggle room.

The Student Press Law Center criticized H.B. 1015 for its vagueness and over-reach against constitutionally protected speech, suggesting it would expose a student who blogged "school is a horrible place" to disciplinary action, according to the J & C article. Koch introduced a similar bill last year that stalled in the Senate over criticism that it was overbroad.

H.B. 1015 would expand existing law that subjects to discipline students who engage in "unlawful" out-of-school conduct against other students or teachers to encompass punishment for "delinquent, criminal or tortious" acts.  Not all school administrators back the proposed bill, lamenting that they lack adequate staff and time to monitor students' home computer behavior, a task they believe would better be carried out by parents.
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