Bully Free Iowa

The Governor’s proposed Bully Free Iowa Act of 2015 was scheduled to be considered by legislators in the Iowa House (HSB 39 subcommittee) and Senate (Senate Education Committee–SSB 1044) earlier today.

Radio Iowa reported yesterday that the main issues under discussion are the provision allowing for a student veto of parental notification of bullying incidents and the anti-bullying pilot projects (a legislator wants to ensure rural schools participate too). Apparently not being discussed? Limitations on school authority over student social media use outside of school.

Education Week reported last week on issues popping up in other states related to efforts to combat cyber-bullying, detailing controversies that have erupted as schools have attempted to take action, including the interpretation of Illinois law that school districts can require disclosure of student social media passwords previously blogged about here.

In the past two years, similar controversies have erupted around the country. In Minnesota, a student won a $70,000 settlement in March of last year from the 1,100-student Minnewaska Area school district after being forced to give school officials access to her Facebook account; in California, the 29,800-student Lodi Unified district came under harsh criticism for a policy that allowed school athletic coaches to suspend athletes for inappropriate postings made via social media; and in Alabama, the 23,000-student Huntsville City schools came under scrutiny following reports that it paid a security firm to monitor students’ public social-media posts.

Sonja H. Trainor, the director of the Council of School Attorneys for the Alexandria, Va.-based National School Boards Association, said schools should be wary of stepping onto a slippery legal slope.

“This is generally not an authority that school districts want to have, or that school attorneys would advise them to use very often at all,” Ms. Trainor said.”

Interestingly, the Urban Education Network of Iowa is registered in favor of HSB 39, the School Administrators of Iowa is registered in favor of SSB 1044, and the Iowa Association of School Boards is registered as undecided on both bills.

More from Education Week:

For school lawyers, the concerns extend beyond just possible infringements on students’ privacy and constitutional rights, said Ms. Trainor of the Council of School Attorneys.

“Once you get into the business of monitoring, then you’re potentially taking on liability for the things you might see,” she said.

“Any policy around student social media needs to be very, very cautious.”

I appreciate that legislators want to do something to protect Iowa students, but it seems to me that we need more debate on these issues and that if a bill is passed this year, it should include clear limits on what school administrators can and cannot do with regard to monitoring and accessing student social media accounts.