Valentine’s Day is designed to show love and acceptance but it is not uncommon for school bullies to twist that intent to make their victims feel unworthy of such affection. Bullying Statistics.org estimates that in 2010 one in seven students at schools across the nation, including here in Illinois, were either bullied or acted as a bully. Over the last several years, bullying has taken more victims as bullies use texting, social media and other electronic methods to harass and humiliate others. Now Illinois hopes a new law will provide help to students who are victims of bullying.
The new law, which went into effect last month, amends the state’s School Code. Previously, the law gave Illinois schools the power to investigate cyberbullying that occurred through a school-owned electronic device. Now, the law allows schools to expand their investigations to bullying claims that don’t involve school-owned computers as well as school-sponsored activities, functions or programs if the bullying causes a disruption to the school or the educational process.
One example would be a student who is at home and creates a web page or blog under the identity of another student. That student then posts images or messages which cause psychological and emotional harm to the victim. Those posts or web page are shared with other students at the school and word spreads through texted and emailed links. At school, the victim is taunted by others over the existence of this online content and is unable to focus on schoolwork. The school is notified of the cyber-bullying and could use the new amendment to look at the bully’s electronic actions. If other students also shared the content with more than one person, the school could investigate them for bullying as well.
Under the new law, schools must create a process on how they will determine whether the alleged bullying falls under their jurisdictions. Schools investigating a bullying incident are also required to provide helpful information to the alleged victims such as community bullying programs, support services and counseling.
Recently, one school district sent parents into a panic after sending out a letter stating that students may have to give their social media passwords to their school. This was incorrect as Illinois made it illegal for schools to ask for students’ passwords to social media sites in a new law last year. Victims and their parents can provide proof of bullying to the school through a screen shot or a copy of a text.