Not for Teacher: Criminalizing Free Speech in North Carolina



It's now a Class 2 misdemeanor—akin to simple assault—for North Carolina students to use the interwebs to "intimidate or torment" a school employee.

According to the Wall Street Journal:

School officials in North Carolina and elsewhere say the moves are necessary to protect teachers in an age when comments posted online—sometimes by students pretending to be the teachers they are mocking—can spread quickly and damage reputations.

…While nearly every U.S. state has now passed measures to curb student-on-student cyberbullying, North Carolina is apparently the first to pass a law aimed at students bullying teachers online.

Students who build a fake profile for, post an image of, or repeatedly email a school employee in a harassing manner could spend up to 60 days in jail or face a $1,000 fine.

The courts are split on whether schools can discipline students for parody and criticism created off campus. In two separate cases, the *3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals shot down disciplinary action (10-day suspensions) for students who made lewd and immature comments about their principals on fake MySpace profiles. But the *2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a Connecticut schools' decision to bar a student from becoming class secretary after she wrote a blog post criticizing a Battle of the Bands concert.

The Supreme Court has so far declined the opportunity to take up the issue. Perhaps the fact that students in North Carolina now face criminal charges, rather than disciplinary action, will make an impression on the Supremes.   

North Carolina legislators passed the School Violence Prevention Act this July with support from the Classroom Teachers Association of North Carolina.

See here for more Reason coverage of students bullying teachers and other overreactions to cyberbullying.  

*This post has been changed. In the initial version, the 2nd and 3rd U.S. Circuit Courts were reversed. HT: Hans Bader.