Just the Facts: Cyberbullying Law in Florida
America’s got a bullying problem. According to national statistics, 28% of student in grades 6-12 have experienced bullying, with approximately 30% of students admitting to bullying others. In addition, 70% of young people say they’ve personally witnessed bullying in their schools. But it’s no longer just happening on school grounds. Today, the internet has given students a whole new way to pick on their peers that previous generations didn’t have to worry about.
It’s called cyberbullying, and according to the same statistics, 15% of high school students say they’ve been electronically bullied in the past year. So what does Florida law have to say about bullying?
Cyberbullying Laws in Florida
While Florida laws prohibits bullying at public schools, it states that schools are responsible for enacting their own anti-bullying policies. It’s much stricter when it comes to cyberbullying. Unlike many states, Florida has explicit definitions related to electronic bullying.
“Bullying through the use of technology or any electronic communication” (Fla. Stat. Ann. 1006.147). The statute includes email, internet communications, instant messages, faxes, websites, and blogs in its descriptive and non-exclusive list of electronic means of bullying. It further defines cyberbullying as systematically and chronically inflicting physical or psychological distress upon a student. Examples of such conduct includes:
- Social exclusion
- Sexual, religious, or racial harassment
- Public or private humiliation
- Destruction of property
“A course of conduct serving no legitimate purpose that is directed at a specific person, causing that person substantial emotional distress” (Fla. Stat. Ann. 784.048).
“A verbal and/or nonverbal threat that places the individual targeted by the threat in reasonable fear for his or her safety or the safety of family members or close associates.” (Fla. Stat. Ann. § 784.048.) Fear of a threat is reasonable if the person making the threat has the apparent ability and intent to carry it out.
School-Based Cyberbullying Law
Florida law states that cyberbullying of any student or employee of a public K-12 school is prohibited. Specifically, schools that fail to respond appropriately to harassment, including cyberbullying, may be held in violation of one or more civil rights laws enforced by the Department of Education (DOE). School-based cyberbullying is defined as conduct that:
- Puts a student in reasonable fear of harm to his or her person or property
- Substantially interferes with the student’s ability to perform academically or enjoy educational benefits and opportunities
- Substantially disrupts the orderly functioning of the school
- Prohibit bullying during any school activity or event, on a school bus, or committed on a school-owned device (such as a computer)
- Describe the behavior prohibited
- Describe the consequences of violating the policy
- Set up a procedure for students and others to report suspected bullying
- Require school employees to report suspected bullying to the administration
- Notify the parents or guardians of students accused of bullying or targeted by bullying
- Set up an investigatory procedure
- Set up a procedure to refer victims and offenders to counseling, and
- Prohibit retaliation against anyone who reports suspected bullying
Punishments for Cyberbullying
A person convicted of misdemeanor cyberbullying faces a possible prison sentence not to exceed one year, a fine not to exceed $1,000, or both. A person convicted of felony cyberbullying faces a possible prison sentence not to exceed five years, a fine not to exceed $5,000, or both. The difference between misdemeanor and felony cyberbullying usually comes down to whether it’s a first offense, a repeat offender, and the age of the cyberbully.
Today, being a kid is hard enough without having to worry about the threat of cyberbullying. The team at Lowman Law Firm wants you to be aware of Florida law, and encourages any school employee, student, or parent who witnesses bullying make a prompt, good faith report of the bullying incident in compliance with the school’s anti-bullying policy (this also makes the reporter immune from any civil lawsuit arising from potential damages caused by the report). Be vigilant for the safety and security of our children.