Students in North Carolina will now have to think twice before posting disparaging comments about their teachers on social media sites. According to the Wall Street Journal, the state is the first to make it illegal for students to "intimidate or torment" teachers online or build fake profiles or websites to damage employees' reputations. Students found guilty under the law could face a fine of up to $1,000 and/or probation.
The law passed in July, after the Classroom Teachers Association of North Carolina lobbied for it to be included in the state's School Violence Prevention Act of 2012. Judy Kidd, the association's president, explained that the union had been receiving complaints about students cyberbullying teachers. In one incident, said Kidd, a middle school student sent "sexually explicit emails" about a teacher to other students. Another incident involved a student posting false allegations about having been groped by her instructor. "It became apparent that we had to get some kind of protection," said Kidd.
While school officials have said that the law is necessary to protect teachers against cyberbullying, some see the move as an infringement on students' right to free speech.
"Our concern is that we don't throw the First Amendment out the window in our haste to get the kid who is calling the principal bad names on Facebook," said Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, a group that advocates for students' free-speech rights.
The paper said the measure is "one of the most aggressive yet by states to police students' online activities."