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Stuck in middle of civil rights, cyber-bullying?

Nine lines were added to a Washington County Board of Education policy on “zero tolerance offenses” last week to accommodate a change in state law regarding cyber-bullying.
But it’s what is between those lines that has members of the school board questioning the decision of Tennessee lawmakers to demand the addition.
Among its zero tolerance offenses, state law now considers electronic threats to cause bodily injury or death to another student or school employee.
According to policy, a school employee, student or volunteer who witnesses or possesses reliable information that a student has transmitted by an electronic device any communication containing such a threat must report such information to the school principal.
“It puts a huge burden on the principal,” said Jack Leonard, a member of the school board. “The principal has to regulate what’s going on at home on the students’ ipads, computers, iphones.”
Director of Schools Ron Dykes called the addition of cyber-bullying to the policy “just another burden the (Tennessee) General Assembly has placed upon the educational community.”
“Here’s one more issue with trying to maintain an act that really should be governed by the home itself,” Dykes said in a later interview.
He also pointed to concerns about how far the law can go without crossing the line into infringement on the rights of students.
“There is, of course, controversy associated with this. You have to be cautious of whether you cross over into First Amendment rights,” Dykes said.
Dykes said his biggest issue with the law is the lack of “support” that comes with it.
“If a school district receives a civil rights lawsuit based on a violation of First Amendment rights, the state is not providing litigation funds to the school that takes these actions,” Dykes said. “The problem comes in the financial outlay associated with even defending that.”
Dykes said he is concerned about the “potential overload” such a lawsuit could place on school districts.
He also said he believes state legislators were made aware prior to passing the law of the potential claims that could be made regarding a violation of First Amendment rights.
“(State legislators) need to listen to their legal advice, perhaps a little closer,” Dykes said. “Nonetheless, the law exists and we’re burdened with this.”
The law went into effect July 1.