Over the last few years, school administrators and state legislators have placed a greater emphasis on the prevention of bullying in school, including "cyber-bullying." In some states, new legislation has even designated bullying and cyber-bullying as a crime.
Cracking down on this unacceptable behavior is a worthy goal. But because it is not always easy to determine what constitutes bullying, such efforts may be misdirected or disproportionately harsh in certain circumstances. As states adjust to new laws and other measures against bullying and cyber-bullying, we will likely see juvenile crime rates increase.
The news is already full of stories about teenagers who have been expelled or faced criminal charges for behaviors that were either intended as good-natured pranks or could otherwise be construed as non-bullying. As one example, a young man at a Massachusetts high school was recently expelled for a senior prank that got out of control.
According to news reports, the 18-year-old senior wanted to play a prank on his English teacher. Knowing that the teacher ran a school website, he gave his classmates a pass code that would allow them to access and post to the site.
The student says that his intention was to have others post funny pictures online. Instead, the site was quickly overrun with sexually derogatory and vulgar comments that were posted by other students. The English teacher was reportedly traumatized to the point of seeking psychological counseling.
The young man was originally suspended for 10 days, but that later turned into a notice of expulsion. He says he feels unduly penalized, considering that he did not post any of the inappropriate comments online.
While this is not a story of criminal charges per se, the consequences could be nearly as devastating. The student said: "You know I'd like to go back to school and get my diploma and go to Westfield State like I planned on, but I don't see that happening." Even if he can successfully appeal for reinstatement, his college plans may be jeopardized. The incident has resulted in the loss of a scholarship, according to the young man's grandmother.
Young men and women who find themselves in trouble with the law have a lot to lose. If you have been charged with juvenile crime and want to protect your own future prospects, you may wish to consult a qualified criminal defense attorney.
Source: Huffington Post, "Chris Latour, Massachusetts High School Student, Expelled For 'Cyberbullying' Senior Prank," Dec. 4, 2012