Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

February 3, 2013

Bill targets teacher harassment on the web

Bullying teachers could cost students, parents up to $1,000.

By Lindsey Ziliak
Tribune staff writer

— A state representative from Hamilton County authored a bill that targets students and parents who “torment” or “intimidate” teachers and school administrators online.

House Bill 1364 was sent to the education committee where it was brought up during a hearing this week. Representative Todd Huston expects the committee to vote on the issue by next week.

“People seem to like this bill as it is,” he said.

Huston modeled the bill after similar legislation in North Carolina.

It was a response to news accounts he’s seen across the country of teachers being “disparaged” by students online, he said.

The bill prohibits students, former students or parents of students from posting fake social networking profiles, doctored images or personal or sexual information about a school employee online.

It also makes it illegal to send “intimidating” emails or post

“intimidating” messages on social networking sites.

If a judge can prove that a student or parent did any of these things with the intent to “torment” a teacher, he or she can issue an injunction ordering the intimidation to cease and award damages up to $1,000.

“There should be consequences for this,” Huston said. “Once it gets in that public domain, it can’t be taken back.”

Teachers’ reputations have been ruined when disgruntled students have gone online and made false accusations.

He said students make these very loud, public accusations. Then when it’s discovered that the accusations have no merit, students make very quiet apologies that no one hears about, he said.

Huston said he wants to keep that from happening.

Eastern Howard School Corp. Superintendent Tracy Caddell said he doesn’t know how necessary the law is.

Students at Eastern aren’t often harassing teachers.

“In the five years I’ve been here, we’ve dealt with it maybe twice,” he said. “Two years ago there was a student upset about a grade. They overreacted.”

Caddell said the student was frustrated and threatened a teacher online. But the kid never intended to harm the teacher.

The student was disciplined by the school, and that was enough, the superintendent said.

And what about a student’s rights?

“You have to be careful,” Caddell said. “Students do have freedom of speech outside of school.”

Huston said he was very conscientious of free speech when he authored the bill. He said he doesn’t want to infringe on anyone’s rights.

But something needed to be done.

“We see more and more of this on the news,” Huston said.

Lindsey Ziliak may be reached at 765-454-8585 or via e-mail at lindsey.ziliak@kokomotribune.com

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