First Amendment

Cyberbullying law would violate students' free speech rights, opponents say

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A bill being proposed in Indiana’s House of Representatives would give school officials the authority to punish students for “delinquent, criminal or tortious” or “juvenile” acts online, even if the acts are not committed at school.

“Students say horrible things to each other on Facebook that they would never, ever say in person,” Clare Lutgen, principal of Oakland High School in Lafayette, Ind., told the Journal and Courier. “And then students come to school upset and embarrassed. It doesn’t matter where it originated, it’s disrupting their ability to learn.”

But opponents of the bill are concerned that students will be punished by their schools for posting statements online that are constitutionally protected, the Journal and Courier said.

“If a student wants to post ‘school is a horrible place,’ they could be punished,” said Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center. “Or, what if they are handing out condoms on the weekends, and the school teaches abstinence? They could be punished for voicing any opinion contrary to the school’s position.”

Some school administrators told the Journal and Courier that they don’t necessarily want the authority that the bill would give them.

“We want to protect our kids and keep them safe,” Tippecanoe School Corp. Superintendent Scott Hanback told the newspaper. “But there is a boundary between what is a principal issue and what is a parent issue. We don’t want to get into the business of policing students’ home computers, especially if it is not spilling over to become an educational disruption.”

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