HSLI Newsletter

Serving Illinois Health Information Professionals

Legislative Alert–Illinois HB4207 (Cyberbullying)

Please take note of Illinois House Bill 4207, which amends the Illinois School Code to cover cyberbullying to a greater extent than it already does. Specifically, the legislation would modify the “Bullying prevention” provision of the school code. Under the changes, bullying via computers, or other electronic devices, at a function that is not school-related would fall under cyberbullying, even if the devices themselves are not owned by the school district. (Under the current version of the school code, the bullying must be done via a school computer or electronic network.) The legislation would not actually require school staff to monitor the use of electronic devices for cyberbullying; staff would simply have to respond if they received a complaint. Here is a link to the Illinois General Assembly’s page on the bill. The legislation passed the House on April 10 and is currently in the Education Committee in the Senate.

The link to the Illinois Library Association’s alert is here (first article, “Great Intentions, Wrong Legislation, Call Your Illinois General Assembly Senator Now!”). As the ILA notes, the major concern regarding this legislation is that the proposed addition to the school code overextends what counts as cyberbullying. If the changes went into effect, virtually any kind of electronic communication could be considered bullying, even if the communicating doesn’t occur on school grounds or via school equipment. Although, as mentioned above, school staff would not have to track device use for cyberbullying, staff members would still have to respond to any complaint of possible cyberbullying.

Cyberbullying has been a legislative issue not just in Illinois, but across the country. This government website gives a state-by-state breakdown of current cyberbullying laws, and it also has an overview of cyberbullying policies at the federal level. Many states already have both legislation (state laws and statutes, including school codes) and policies (guidelines for school districts to follow) that cover bullying. Illinois is one of those states that has only legislation. Specific policies drafted by school districts, however, would provide clearer guidelines than would the proposed legislation, which, as noted before, is too broad. As the site also details, there is currently no federal legislation dealing specifically with cyberbullying, although related legislation covering harassment and discrimination may apply to some cyberbullying scenarios. Among legislation in the current U.S. Congress, House Resolution 2585 (H.R.2585) would establish school programs intended for preventing cyberbullying, among other types of bullying and harassment. No action has been taken on the legislation since July of last year.

While cyberbullying is primarily a school problem (and so that is the focus of legislation in Illinois and nationally), it is also an issue in the workplace, and so attempts to curb it will likely affect the approach that hospitals and libraries take with their employees. Additionally, legislative efforts to curb cyberbullying need to take into account the prevention and treatment programs that many medical organizations already have in place. Another issue, specifically related to libraries (and reflected in Illinois HB4207’s approach to schools), is whether or not a library would be responsible if the cyberbullying happened via the library’s computers, or even via a personal computer that is using the library’s Wi-Fi. Also, with more libraries allowing patrons to check out electronic devices, such as e-readers, there is also the question of whether libraries could be held liable for harassment carried out via the devices but that doesn’t take place on library premises.

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