Texas Supreme Court Releases Cyberbullying Legal Action Form

The Texas Supreme Court has published in preview a “Petition to End Cyberbullying” form for inclusion in the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code.

The form comes five years after the bipartisan passage of Senate Bill (SB) 179also known as “David’s Law”, which was authored by Sen. Jose Menendez (D-San Antonio).

David Molak, who gave the law his name, killed himself aged 16 after his family said he was ‘overwhelmed with despair after being continually harassed, humiliated and threatened by a group of ‘students by SMS and on social networks’.

“David’s Law is a comprehensive bill that tackles cyberbullying by providing tools for schools as well as those targeted by this form of abuse,” wrote Maureen Molak, David’s mother and co-founder of the non-profit anti-bullying organization. David’s Legacyin a statement to The Texan.

In an interview with the texan, Menendez, like Molak, expressed gratitude that the Texas Supreme Court released this form. He thinks it will be especially helpful for parents of all socio-economic backgrounds who find their students are being bullied.

David’s Legacy provided forms on its website for use in cyberbullying incidents and also facilitated pro bono legal assistance. Menendez said he was glad the form included information about free legal aid groups statewide that can help families with limited financial means.

Before using the form to obtain a court-ordered restraining order against an accused cyberbully, the victim is encouraged to try to settle the matter out of court, including speaking to the parents of the accused bully.

In 2021, the Legislative Assembly added provisions to “David’s Law” requiring school districts to develop a rubric or checklist to assess a bullying incident and determine the district’s response, the office of the district said. co-author of Senator Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston). The Texan.

Each district must also track and report “the number of reported incidents of bullying that have occurred on each campus.”

Joe Cohn, legislative and policy director of the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), believes that ‘David’s Law’ has an overly broad definition of what constitutes bullying, different from the precedent set by the Court Supreme of the United States Davis v. Monroe County School Board.

In 1999, the United States Supreme Court held that for an act to be considered student-to-student bullying, the person must be targeted for a protected reason, the conduct must be offensive to a reasonable person, and the conduct must be so severe and pervasive that it would deprive a victim of equal access to educational opportunities provided by the school, Cohn explained.

When the government – ​​whether a school or a court – interferes with free speech, the standard is very high, he noted.

“To address student-to-student harassment or bullying, it is of the utmost moral and legal importance to carefully define these terms to avoid silencing or punishing protected speech,” Cohn said. The Texan. “David’s Law” allows parents to seek injunctions against minors, silencing them long before their speech crosses constitutional boundaries. The Legislature should review the law and change its definitions to conform to the First Amendment.

Texas law defines bullying as an act or series of acts that “exploits an imbalance of power”, has the effect of harming a student or placing them in a “reasonable fear of harm”, and is “sufficiently severe, persistent, or pervasive” so that it “materially and substantially disrupts the educational process”.

Because the US Supreme Court requires the behavior to be both ‘serious and widespread’ while Texas law allows it to be “severe, persistent, or pervasive” Cohn thinks it won’t be long “before it’s constitutionally challenged.”

“We have seen reports showing a reduction in cyberbullying in the state of Texas since the passage of ‘David’s Law’. These forms will not solve the problem, but we believe they will definitely have a greater impact and hopefully other states will follow our lead,” Molak stressed.

On the other hand, Cohn thinks that “the creation of these forms is likely to increase the number of people who file lawsuits trying to silence students by using overly broad definitions.”

Interested parties may submit comments and comments to the Texas Supreme Court about the “petition to end cyberbullying” in writing by December 1.

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