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Written by Charlotte Andrist
on April 21, 2020

Combating bullying—particularly harassment that happens online—is an important part of supporting your students’ well-being. With current social distancing orders around the world, students are being forced to communicate with one another solely through technology. This opens the door for students to engage in harmful cyberbullying behaviors.

While this detailed eBook can help students and parents understand and react to cyberbullying, it’s useful to know what your next steps may be if you encounter an online bully who won’t back down. For some, this means bringing the law into the situation.

All 50 U.S. states have laws to criminalize the actions of people who are engaging in certain bullying behaviors, but there are no federal laws that directly refer to cyberbullying. Most states have a reference to cyberbullying within their general harassment laws, but even those laws start to get confusing when it comes to schools’ ability to discipline cyberbullying, formal bullying policies, and off-campus behavior.

The Cyberbullying Research Center created an interactive map to help students, parents, and teachers determine the foundational bullying laws that apply in their state so they can be prepared to handle the worst. This map highlights four important factors in understanding cyberbullying legislation as it applies to schools and students: criminal sanction, school sanction, school policy, and off-campus behavior. To understand your state’s cyberbullying laws, it helps to learn what each of these factors applies to:

  • Criminal Sanction (of Cyberbullying or Electronic Harassment)
    All states have laws that apply to various bullying behaviors, such as assault statutes for causing physical harm to another person. All states also have laws that protect against harassment and/or stalking, and many of these state laws refer to electronic forms.

    The states that have not yet created legislation to criminally sanction electronic forms of harassment include: Maine, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, and Wyoming.

  • School Sanction
    In a majority of states, bullying laws include provisions that give schools the power to discipline students in appropriate and specific ways. These sanctions enable schools to create detailed bullying policies that name specific penalties for engaging in bullying behaviors.

    The states that have not yet created legislation to give schools authority to discipline students for bullying include: Alabama, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, and New Hampshire.

  • School Policy
    Bullying laws mandate schools in every state to create a formal policy to determine which student behaviors are considered bullying and to discuss disciplinary actions, ensuring all students get treated with the same scrutiny when accused of bullying.

  • Off-Campus Behavior
    Federal case law allows schools to discipline students for off-campus behavior that disrupts learning. Only 17 states have specifically written this in as a bullying statute.

Once you understand the foundational cyberbullying laws that apply in your state, it’s important to look into the specifics, including the disciplinary actions schools can take against cyberbullies and whether or not law enforcement will get involved. The bullying laws map tool on cyberbullying.org allows you to click on your state to read exactly what your local laws include.

Every student, parent, and educator should know about the laws and policies that apply to bullying in their state, district, and school. By proactively learning the guidelines, you’ll be prepared to call out illegal bullying behaviors and unsafe situations when it’s most important.

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