A General Assembly committee has approved a bill on school bullying that includes a provision that the ACLU of Connecticut thinks unconstitutional. ACLU-CT will continue efforts to amend out of the bill a provision that would imply schools’ authority over what children do at home.
As Legal Director Sandra Staub told the Education Committee in her mid-March testimony, "simply plugging the phrase ‘cyberbullying' into the current statute on bullying policies will encourage and allow schools to regulate children's speech and conduct while they are in their own homes."
The bill, she testified, "suggests that schools have the authority to invade the family circle to replace the individualized disciplinary choices of the parents with the institutionalized punishments of the school. This invasion of the family unit infringes on parents' due process right to raise their children."
Schools have limited authority, Staub argued, to regulate students' speech in school, in school sponsored activities or when the student speech is part of school sponsored speech - and then only if the speech fits within very narrowly defined circumstances.
But schools, she said, "may not act to control what children say in their own homes without infringing on the free speech rights of the children and cutting them off from the vital educational benefits of participating in the marketplace of ideas.
"To turn schools into internet police, simply because of their proximity to children," she testified, "distracts from the duty of schools to teach children better ways of dealing with conflict."
ACLU-CT Testimony on Cyberbullying Law
Read Raised Bill No. 1138, "An Act Concerning the Strengthening of School Bullying Laws" (Proposed new language is underlined]:
3/24 Hartford Courant:
Bullying Bill Passes Education Committee, Adding Cyberbullying; Modeled On Massachusetts Law