Cyber-Bullying and Public Schools

Iowa Governor Terry Branstad last week announced a bill that was the result of the anti-bullying conference, HSB 196, was filed in the Iowa House. The language was produced by School Administrators of Iowa, and the bill will be floor managed by Josh Byrnes (R-Osage) and has passed out of the subcommittee it was assigned to this morning.

There are two positive aspects to the bill that I wanted to point out.

  1. It is more inclusive of any kid who is bullied, rather than just special interest groups. This bill adds the language, "other distinguishing characteristic" to the current list of characteristics and traits found in the Iowa Code. They also separate "harassment" from "bullying" in the definition found in the current law. The Governor’s office in an official statement said, "Harassment means conduct or an act based on an actual or perceived trait or characteristic of the student. Bullying is conduct or an act for “any reason other than any actual or perceived trait or characteristic of the student.” Sometimes kids are bullied for reasons that are not properly categorized as a trait or characteristic."
  2. There is protection for First Amendment rights for students by stating nothing in the legislation shall be construed to restrain or discipline speech that expresses political, religious or other protected categories of speech, which address legitimate matters of public concern.

The second item would be key and an excellent addition in mitigating the threat of the loss of liberty that existed in the current law. I’m still not a fan of anti-bullying legislation, but it would make the law much better with the addition of the two items above.

While I recognize that bullying is a problem, and cyber-bullying is an uncharted topic, as far as, legislation is concerned; I have concerns about this bill.

I’m not sure that giving schools authority off of school grounds to intervene in cyber-bullying is a good idea. From Governor Branstad’s announcement:

Giving schools more authority to address cyber-bullying by (a) adding “social networking” to the definition of electronic communications and (b) stating that nothing stops a school from addressing bullying or harassment that occurs away from school or a school function, while providing additional protection to school employees who decide not to act on alleged bullying under those circumstances.

If cyber-bullying occurs using school computers or happens during the school day that’s one thing. If it happens at home that is for parents to handle. Are there other laws in the Code that could deal with this?  It just seems to me that there has to be another way this could be handled.  For instance what do you do when the perpetrator and the victim attend different schools?  What if the victim is homeschooled or attends a private school?  What if the perpetrator has passed the age of majority and the victim is still a minor?  Having public schools police this just doesn’t make sense.  Also, do we really need additional government intrusion into the home via the public school system?

I’m not saying don’t tackle the issue – it is important, but I would encourage Republicans in the House Education Committee to address this concern, strip out, revise or rework the bad in this bill and keep the good.

About Shane Vander Hart

Shane Vander Hart founded Iowans for Local Control in 2012 which later merged with Iowa RestorEd. Shane also is the founder and editor-in-chief of Caffeinated Thoughts and the founder and president of 4:15 Communications, LLC, a social media & communications consulting/management firm.  You can connect with Shane on Facebook or follow him on Twitter and Google +.


  1. The courts have held repeatedly that school officials have the ability to discipline students for out-of-school behavior if it ‘materially and substantially’ interferes with the school environment. Most attempts by schools to address cyberbullying or cyberharassment by students at home actually have failed legally – resulting in 5- and 6-figure settlements in favor of kids – because what administrators want to try and reach turns out to be ‘I don’t like that,’ not ‘that was a material and substantial disruption.’ In other words, courts have done a pretty good job, for the most part, of balancing students’ Constitutional rights against the safety and order needs of schools. I am a very strong advocate for respecting kids’ rights. As a school law professor, I’m not sure that this law does much that wasn’t already in place legally…

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