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California Toughens Bullying Laws

California is among a handful of states that have passed cyber bullying laws in recent years. Cyber bullying laws are aimed at harassment that is done through the Internet, including social networking sites and instant messenger, and other electronic or digital means, including text messaging.

Under the new California law, schools can discipline students – through suspension or expulsion – who harass fellow students by electronic means.

Recent statistics from found that 25 percent of teenagers report that they have experienced repeated bullying via their cell phone or on the Internet.

Tragically, some cases of cyber bullying end in suicide, which was the sad end to the Megan Meier story. Megan committed suicide after a 49-year-old woman, posing as a teenage boy, befriended and then posted hurtful comments about Megan online.

Cyber bullying: No Right To Free Speech

One of the aspects of California’s new cyber bullying law is that it allows school officials to respond to conduct that may take place on the Internet from computers off school grounds. While it may seem an overreach of school official power to let officials reprimand students for these types of actions, under Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, the Supreme Court gave schools the power to take action when speech causes a “substantial disruption” to the school’s academics. For instance, if what is said on Facebook or through a text message creates a disruption or teasing during the school day, then the school can and should take action.

A California appeals court recently held that cyber bullying is not protected free speech. When cyber bullying takes the form of threats of violence, even if the speech is just an empty threat, the speech is not protected by the First Amendment.

Beyond Cyber bullying

Even with the proliferation of cyber bullying, bullying in general is still prevalent among teens. Too often, the results of bullying are tragic.

Asher Brown, as reported by CNN’s Anderson Cooper, ended his life after being taunted about his stature, the brand of clothing he wore, and insinuations about his sexual orientation. In Asher’s case, his mother and step-father had reported the bullying to the school on several occasions, by phone and in person, in an effort to curb the taunts. School officials now deny that they were aware of the bullying.

If bullying or cyber bullying is out of hand and is not stopped, there are many avenues for seeking retribution. In certain circumstances, hate crimes or defamation suits may be brought against the bullies, cyber bullies, and their parents, as the attorneys at Corsiglia, McMahon & Allard found in a recent case sparked by cyber bullies’ attacks on a student at a local high school.

In cyber bully or bullying cases, compensation may be sought from:

  • The bullies
  • The bullies’ parents
  • The bullies’ parents’ homeowners’ insurance
  • The school district

If your child is being bullied at school or online, seek the legal help of an experienced attorney. With an attorney’s help, the bullying can be stopped.

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