Minnesota’s Lax Cyber-Bullying Laws

When the time came to discuss cyber-bullying in class last month, we quickly discovered that finding a clear definition would not be easy.  With a lack of federal action on the matter, the issue has largely been left to states to sort out.  Unfortunately, we here in Minnesota have one of the weakest and most ambiguous state laws with respect to bullying.  Frankly, I was astonished when I asked a student to look up the statute, only to find that it was just 37 words long, passing the buck to school districts for them to create policies on bullying.

SCHOOL BOARD POLICY; PROHIBITING INTIMIDATION AND BULLYING

As you can see, there’s not a lot to it.  What’s most troubling is the vast inconsistency that the law has generated among school districts in the state.  According to a six-month investigation by Minnesota Public Radio, where you live has an enormous effect on what the policy covers.  Some districts state that the policy covers acts of bullying on and off-campus, while others don’t even mention electronic bullying at all.  It’s not clear where school districts derive the authority to monitor behavior that takes place outside of school, even though some school districts have claimed that “anything that interferes with school.”  That’s a constitutionally troubling response because, well, where does it end?  Another thing we noticed, and was raised in the MPR report, is that there’s no enforcement mechanism in the state law to ensure that districts comply with even the vague tenets of this law.  Presumably, the state Department of Education should be checking to make sure each district has a policy, but that’s not clearly stated in the law and agencies cannot regulate without at least vague authority from the legislature.

With all of the high-priority bills that the Minnesota House and Senate have to pass before the end of the session next week, it seems doubtful that we’ll see an amended statute that at least provides some guidelines for school districts or even hands the matter over to the Department of Education to handle.  In the mean time, kids and parents across the state who are faced with bullying will have to deal with the hodgepodge rules and hope their school districts are equipped to deal with the problem that doesn’t even have a uniform definition.

One good resource that might prove useful is the Cyberbullying Research Center, which has a wealth of information and research about the issue.  As communication technology evolve there will continue to be new forms of bullying.  If the state isn’t capable of creating laws, it falls on those closest to the problem.  Parents and teachers need to keep up if they want to be sure that no kids suffer the harm that taunts and fake Facebook pages and viral tweets can cause.

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About Justin Kwong

An attorney in the Twin Cities and adjunct professor at William Mitchell College of Law where I teach a seminar on the law of virtual worlds.
This entry was posted in Legislation, Multi-user Online Environments, Privacy, Regulation and Rule-making, Rights and Civil Liberties, Social Networks and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Minnesota’s Lax Cyber-Bullying Laws

  1. Pingback: Crazy Articles Directory » Minnesota?s Lax Cyber-Bullying Laws

  2. Justin,

    Once again, a fantastic read. I started out thinking that I was going to have some serious objection to your article, but it was very insightful.

    Before going into some thoughts on your article, I assume that you are focused on the harassment at schools (bullying), not the general population.

    However, I would point out that a Harassment Restraining Orders can, and has been used in the school systems. In addition, HROs can be based on threatening words (e-mails, facebook posts, ect.). That would be one way of addressing bullying in a civil court, even for students at school.

    Criminal cases can be addressed in the same way. Just as threatening letters will open an individual up to criminal prosecution, so will threatening electronic communication.

    Therefore, my assumption is that your focus is on the schools response to cyber bullying. Considering the number of different schools, and the focus and style of many of the schools, as well as how many communities vary in their approach to raising children. I think it would be a poor choice to ask the legislature to construct a policy.

    I would note that the only significant difference between many of the other policies and the bullying policy is that it doesn’t require the Commissioner of Education to make a model policy for bullying.

    Overall, an interesting read – thanks for making me think.

    • Justin Kwong says:

      Interesting point, I hadn’t thought that it might be an advantage to have a vague law. Although, my question is: Is there a point where a law is too vague? If there’s no definition of what bullying is, how can a district have a policy about it? Is it a “I’ll know it when I see it” kind of thing? If, as reported by MPR, there are reports of bullying in every school district, then it’s clear that it is a systemic problem. Yet what the Minneapolis school district reports as bullying may vary substantially from what gets reported in Wilmar or Northfield. Should we be more concerned about the effect on the kid or the actions themselves?

      These are major questions that should be grappled with, and as far as I can tell, the issue is in need of some serious thought. Old-fashioned, in-your-face bullying is bound to continue, but it seems that the growing threat of cyber-bullying can have far more psychological harm because of its pervasiveness. Do we wait around for more studies on its effects or do we risk making knee-jerk legislation without fully considering the long-term implications? It’s undoubtedly a difficult path to walk, but hopefully the MPR report (and this blog) will get more people talking.

  3. Wondering if you saw the ABCFamily movie Cyberbullying on Sunday. Wish we could show this at every back to school night!

    • Justin Kwong says:

      I didn’t see it. What was it like? Hopefully it will get more people talking about the issue and what can be done to put an end to bullying and other online harassment.

  4. Pingback: Minnesota’s Anti-Bullying Statute: Weakest in the Nation, Slated for Revision | Virtual Navigator

  5. Sinya says:

    I think they really need to crack down cyberbullying that makes the victim inflict pain on themself. Not just if it threatens the ability to learn. Lots of people are good actors or have friends who would kill on command to keep any sercet for their friend. But most the time it gets out and… now people will treat them even more differently. (Badly, by the way.)

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