A new Illinois law allows school boards to expel or suspend any student who makes a threat against school personnel, or other students via websites.
Co-sponsor of the bill, Rep. Sandra Pihos (R-Glen Ellyn) said this is just a "babystep" to stop cyber bullying. Concerned with infringing on First Amendment rights, Pihos said this bill is a "little soft," but has enough teeth to provide school boards with direction on how to deal with students who make explicit threats online.
Students will get in trouble if they make a statement online that "could reasonably be interpreted as threatening," according to the language of the law. The threat must also be made on a website, so a threatening email exchange between students will not be punishable under this law, according to Pihos. The language of the bill states a student will face repercussions if they,
"have made an explicit threat on an internet website that was accessible within the school at the time the threat was made or was available to third parties who worked or studied within the school grounds at the time the threat was made, and the threat could reasonably be interpreted as threatening..."
However, the law is vague and leaves it to be interpreted as to where the threat can originate for grounds of expulsion or suspension. Pihos said, "This is certainly not the be all, end all in solving this. I think it's a good start and I think we're going to be revisiting this at some point in time."
Although there have been cyber bullying cases around the country, Pihos said there are no local incidents that lead her to co-sponsor this bill. As a former school teacher, she was aware of bullying but says it is has only gotten worse with the help of the Internet. Pihos said she hopes students learn at an early age the dangers of the internet and what they post online is captured in time forever.
A survey taken by seventh graders last school year revealed at some point. has made the promotion of positive social behaviors a priority in students' curriculum within the last few years. Initiatives range from hosting anti-bullying speakers to the . Last year's eighth graders wrote and filmed the .
District efforts have trickled down to the elementary level. ’s students incorporate the Paws Laws Shuffle into their day, which emphasizes respect, teamwork, and personal responsibility. Teachers started the school year by laying out expectations for proper behavior in the classroom, hallways, lunchroom—even bathroom.
"I would just say that at this point, we anticipate bringing this new legislation to our policy committee for discussion," Supt. Patricia Wernet said in an email statement. "We take any type of bullying, on-line, in person, seriously and act accordingly."
District 202’s current policy does not tolerate verbal, physical, or ‘visual’ harassment, and some measures include the use of new media. Students are prohibited from accessing, creating, or distributing any electronic material ‘that will cause a substantial disruption’ at school. Provisions are also in place for accessing websites, including email, on the district’s network. (Find the full text of the District 202 School Board policies here.)
“Students and staff members have no expectation of privacy in any material that is stored, transmitted, or received via the District's electronic networks or District's computers,” policy states.
Naperville District 203 has also by faculty and students to accommodate new technology.
Additional reporting by Karlie Baker.