2013 Winning Essay
"Teacher Intimidation in the 21st Century"
by Thomas Forster
Rockbridge High School, Lexington VA
It shall be unlawful for a student to intimidate, torment, or harass a teacher on the Internet, by, but not limited to:
- Creating a fake profile, blog, or website with a teacher’s personal information and posting or publishing with malicious intent;
- Posting material on social networking sites or personal blogs with the intent to defame or slander a teacher’s reputation;
- Generating inappropriate or misleading photos that compromise a teacher’s professional reputation;
- Urging fellow students on social networking sites or personal blogs to be disruptive in class or to hinder an instructor’s ability to teach; or
- Initiating or carrying out any other online activity that damages a teacher’s reputation, hinders a teacher’s ability to instruct, or intimidates or harms a teacher in any other way.
Any student found to be in violation of this section shall be guilty of a Class 2 misdemeanor, with consequences including, but not limited to, one or more of the following:
- A fine not to exceed $1,000;
- Community service not to exceed 500 hours;
- Jail time not to exceed six months;
- Transfer of the student to another school; or
- Any other ramifications that the court sees fit.
- If the court finds that a parent has unreasonably contributed to or willfully assisted in the student’s unlawful conduct, the court may order the parent to pay a civil fine not to exceed $1,000.
Passing this proposed law would allow teachers a sense of security and protection against the malicious or mischievous intentions of discontented students. Teachers should be able to instruct students without fear of online harassment or bullying, and this law provides both teachers and students the freedom and opportunity to educate and learn in a comfortable and stable environment. Such a law discourages students from acting out against teachers in an inappropriate fashion and encourages students and their families to navigate through the proper avenues to resolve an issue or misunderstanding with a teacher. Rather than engaging in ill intentioned attempts to slander a teacher’s name on the Internet, causing irreparable harm, students will develop important conflict resolution skills.
The potential consequences of violating this law also dissuade an impetuous student from attempting to torment a teacher, as a conviction would precipitate financial and familial strain. Ideally, such ramifications serve as a strong deterrent, as the consequences greatly exceed any perverse and fleeting personal satisfaction. Cost-effective public awareness campaigns may persuade a parent or guardian to monitor his or her child’s Internet activity, lest they be subjected to civil fines. Hopefully, a parent or guardian will also be prompted to educate his or her child on the proper methods to express dissatisfaction with another individual. This law fosters a more protected and harmonious classroom where both teacher and student may focus on the business of learning. The law encourages parents and members of the school community to better educate students on conflict resolution, while also spreading awareness throughout the Commonwealth of this growing and troubling issue.
Assuming arguendo that opponents claim the proposed law unduly restricts free speech, the First Amendment does not protect defamatory speech or fighting words. Libel and slander, which differ solely in the form in which a misleading statement is made, are unprotected forms of expression that can allow a plaintiff to prove in court that the speech was slanderous. In the same way, this law would protect the rights of a teacher, while also requiring that the teacher’s claims of Internet intimidation be scrutinized and validated by the legal system. Thus, challenges to the law’s constitutionality regarding freedom of speech would not prove compelling.
Opponents to this law might also suggest that the proposed punishments are too severe. However, North Carolina has already established a legal precedent for such action, which provides persuasive authority for Virginia. North Carolina adopted a similar law, which took effect on December 1, 2012, to protect teachers against abuse on the Internet. The bill, known as the “School Violence Protection Law of 2012,” was passed with large bipartisan support, indicating a strong desire, across party lines, to protect educators. In enacting this law, therefore, the Virginia General Assembly and the Commonwealth of Virginia would not be the first to do so and would have legislative precedent to combat those who do not support the law. Nevertheless, the most poignant argument is situated in the legitimate goal of this law, which, simply put, looks to protect the rights and reputations of the Commonwealth’s dedicated educators. This law is not intended to infringe upon the free expression of students on the Internet but rather to protect the safety of teachers, promote greater dialogue in Internet safety and conflict resolution between parents and children, and to create a protected and enjoyable classroom for both teachers and students.Updated: May 01, 2013