Definition of Bullying by Means of an Electronic Act (Cyber Bullying) Expanded

July 2012

Through amendment of Education Code section 48900, the definition of bullying via an electronic act, (or “cyber bullying”) has been expanded to include “burn pages,” “credible impersonations,” and “false profiles.” This new law builds upon existing law related to cyber bullying by acknowledging that use of the internet to bully others has evolved over time and by providing administrators with additional guidelines relating to the suspension and expulsion of offending cyber bullies.

The Education Code defines the prohibition against bullying to include “communications made in writing or by means of an electronic act, and including one or more acts committed by a pupil or groups of pupils engaging in sexual harassment, hate violence, harassment, threats, or intimidation, directed toward one or more pupils that has or can be reasonably predicted to cause fear and have an impact on a student’s physical and mental health, academic performance, or a student’s ability to participate in school and school activities.”  The definition of bullying by means of an electronic act was also recently expanded to include “a post on a social network Internet website.”

Recognizing “both the tremendous leap in popularity of social networking sites since the inception of [California’s] anti-bullying law, and the potential that the resulting popularity has an increased ability for cyber bullies to spread their messages,” Education Code section 48900 now identifies specific conduct that constitutes cyber bullying by way of social networking.  Specifically prohibited are creating (1) a “burn page,” (an internet website created for the purpose of having one or more effects of bullying); (2)  a “credible impersonation of a pupil,” (knowingly and without consent impersonating a pupil for the purpose of bullying that pupil and such that another pupil would or has reasonably believed that the pupil was or is the pupil who is being impersonated); and/or  (3)  a “false profile,” (creating a profile of a fictitious pupil or a profile using the likeness or attributes of an actual pupil other than the pupil who created the false profile).

Students found to have created a burn page, a credible impersonation of a student or a false profile are subject to discipline (including suspension and expulsion).  These additions to existing law provide administrators with guidance related to the growing and evolving world of social networking and the potential impact upon peer relationships, school safety, and student discipline.

Thus, when reviewing or updating a board policy relating to the suspension or expulsion of students, school districts should determine whether their policy gives parents and students adequate notice about what constitutes cyber bullying and, if necessary, modify the policies to reflect these latest additions and changes and the resulting consequences for the students.

If you have any questions regarding this matter, or would like a review of your District’s current cyber bullying policies, please call one of our six offices.

F3 NewsFlash prepared by Melanie Petersen.

Melanie is a partner in the F3 San Marcos office.

This F3 NewsFlash is a summary only and not legal advice.  We recommend that you consult with legal counsel to determine how this legal development may apply to your specific facts and circumstances.  Information on a free NewsFlash subscription can be found at www.fagenfriedman.com.

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