FILED IN: Education

Insulting teachers online could result in jail time

North Carolina passed a law in December, criminalizing opinions and disparaging comments by students online. Photo via Dave Di Biase.

North Carolina has recently passed legislation which would criminalize the act of students playing pranks on teaches online, setting up false identities or disparaging them.

The School Violence Prevention Act, which was passed in North Carolina on Dec. 1, would make the act of insulting or harassing a teacher online a class 2 misdemeanor. While truth is an absolute defense to an action of defamation or slander, the new law does not distinguish if a student’s opinion is true or not.

According to Fox News, both the Heritage Foundation (an American conservative think tank) and the ACLU believe the new law is deeply flawed and unconstitutional.

The ACLU of North Carolina is concerned that the law is so vague, that anything school officials find to be offensive by a student online could result in arrest.  The ACLU expressed their concern, saying “criminalizing student speech is a slippery slope and establishes a bad precedent.”

North Carolina ACLU Policy Director Sarah Preston said what is most troubling is that a student could face 60 days of jail time for posting something true about a teacher online. Preston says the law essentially shuts down a student’s right to free speech.

Hans Von Spakovsky, a senior legal fellow with the Heritage Foundation echoed the ACLU’s concerns. Spakovsky said, “Basically the state is making it illegal to make a truthful statement, and that is such a violation of the First Amendment. This will have a chilling effect.”

Spakovsky went onto say that the law criminalizes disagreements, opinions and true statements as well. He uses the example of voicing opposition to a school administration decision or talking about an inappropriate comment a teacher made in class or even an inappropriate relationship between a teacher and student. Under this new law, Spakovsky says these things would be a crime.