LINCOLN — Tears emerged Tuesday as the Rev. Mark Sheldon of Elmwood recounted his stepdaughter's ordeal of the past two years.
First there was the breakup with her best friend.
Then came the relentless stream of nasty, hateful text messages, Facebook postings and e-mails from that former friend and others.
Shunning by classmates followed, along with pain, despair and falling grades.
“She'd come home and see the things on Facebook and the Internet and say, ‘I don't want to live,'” Sheldon told the Legislature's Education Committee.
The family went to school officials, he said. But the officials said they could not act because the problems occurred off school grounds.
Eventually, Sheldon and his wife sent the 14-year-old several states away so she could start over with her aunt and uncle.
That experience, plus stories he's heard as a pastor, convinced Sheldon that cyberbullying should be grounds for disciplinary action against students.
He supports Legislative Bill 123, introduced by State Sen. Lavon Heidemann of Elk Creek.
Existing state law allows schools to discipline students for bullying, including electronic abuse. But the law applies only to bullying on school grounds or school vehicles or at school activities and events.
LB 123 would include cyberbullying off school grounds, as well, if it disrupted the school environment or threatened students and staff.
Heidemann said he would have been leery of supporting such a proposal a year ago.
The experience of a constituent changed his mind.
“With the widespread use of the Internet by students, this issue is not going to go away any time soon,” Heidemann said.
That constituent was Deb Kubik, a former high school art teacher who told the committee she was targeted with a Facebook campaign by a group of male students.
She said school officials took no action against the students, despite her complaints and despite getting police reports about the students' actions.
“This was an invisible intruder with the potential for violence,” Kubik said. “It took a huge toll on me.”
Amy Miller, legal director for ACLU Nebraska, said lawmakers would be treading on shaky legal ground to extend the reach of school bullying laws.
She said schools already should take responsibility for bullying that disrupts the school environment, including electronic bullying. Threats can be dealt with through the legal system.
But schools cannot police student behavior 24 hours a day, Miller said.
“Where do you draw the line?” she asked.
Sen. Abbie Cornett of Bellevue raised similar concerns, noting that LB 123 would allow a student to be disciplined for making an online comment that would not be grounds for discipline if said in person off school grounds.
The committee took no immediate action on the bill.
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