Among some 200 new laws that came into effect in Illinois at the start of the new year is one that allows tougher action against kids who take to the Internet to bully their classmates or make threats against their teachers.
Under the new law, school boards have the power to suspend or even expel students who make an explicit threat online against another student or school employee.
This is the result of House Bill 3281 which passed in August of 2011. Until now, if a child made a threat online school administrators felt their hands were tied if the comment was made out of school hours, off school property and using a personal computer.
However, HB 3281 allows administrators to discipline students who make an online comment that “could be reasonably interpreted as threatening to the safety and security” of a student or member of staff.
The move to clarify the law reportedly began after an incident six years ago in which a student at Oswego High School posted a message online complaining about his teachers, saying “I’m so angry I could kill.” The school felt itself powerless to discipline him because he had posted the message out of school hours, off of school property and using his own computer.
This new stipulation adds to Illinois’ existing anti-bullying policy. Specifically, the Illinois School Code’s bullying policy defines cyber bullying to include threatening messages sent trough text messaging, email, Facebook, and other social networking websites. It also stresses that schools are responsible for educating students, parents and personnel about what qualifies as bullying, and the measures that will be taken if a child is found to have broken the new rules.
Rep. Sidney Matthias, in a comment made to the Chicago Sun-Times, said that he sponsored the bill because existing laws “weren’t specific enough,” adding, “We’re making it clear to students that this is unacceptable behavior.”