Guilford County, NC -- Students who bully their teachers online will soon face the brunt of the law.
A bill passed by the North Carolina legislature goes into effect in December and makes it a Class Two Misdemeanor for students to "intimidate" or "torment" their teachers online.
The law is meant to protect teachers who are sometimes left helpless when students attack them online. In some cases, those attacks turn into rumors that can ruin careers and family life.
Gregg Slate, safety administrator for Guilford County Schools says the law is necessary.
"To be completely honest with you, I think we need to make sure that we're protecting our staff. We need to make sure we're protecting our students," he said.
Some believe the intent of lawmakers in passing this law is a good thing. It holds students accountable; making it a crime to do any of the following with the "intent" to "intimidate or torment" a school employee:
-build fake websites or profiles
-sign teachers up for junk mail or pornography
-post personal, private or sexual information about school employees online
Not everyone is convinced this is a good law. "It just seems to me another example of the legislature passing a law, one of these feel good laws, one you couldn't vote against if you were a legislator, that takes what's a school problem and tries to pass it off to the court system," said Guilford County District Attorney Howard Neumann.
He explains that the law will be hard to prosecute: attorneys will have to prove "intent" and define what cyber bullying is.
A conviction under the law carried a 60-day jail sentence and a $1,000 fine but Neumann also points out with admission of guilt or simply a guilty verdict, the student can go on probation, do some community service and have his/her record expunged - a process that can cost the courts time and dollars.
The district attorney contends this is a problem the schools can handle without the courts getting involved.
Slate responds saying that the schools already do their part to discipline students who cycber bully employees. However, this is just another tier of discipline that may deter students.
"I think what the legislature is doing is kind of creating a preventative measure or a deterrent if you will, to prevent this from escalating into a major issue," he said.
The law, which is called School Violence Prevention Act of 2012, will go into effect on December 1st.
"It certainly doesn't help the prosecutor's office. It's just another type of vague case that people can be charged with that we end up having to sort out and deal with. I don't know who it helps," Neumann said.
Surprisingly, the president of the United Guilford Federation of Teachers agrees with that.
"It's a law that's not really needed," wrote Thomas Hefner, president of the group. "There are some free speech issues at play here that make me very uncomfortable with laws such as these that are directed at 'protecting' adults."
You might remember a similar law was passed in 2009 to protect students from being bullied online.
In three years, the state has charged more than 70 people but has gotten fewer than 10 convictions.
This speaks to concerns about how you define "intent", how you define "bullying" and whether schools and parents need to be handling this instead of the courts.
You can read the entire bill here: http://www.ncleg.net/Sessions/2011/Bills/Senate/PDF/S707v6.pdf