Cyberbullying Laws in Texas 2024

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Many states have cyberbullying laws that apply to schools, and this includes Texas. According to the Cyberbullying Research Center, the rate of cyberbullying in Texas is 17.4%, meaning that nearly one in five students in Texas has been cyberbullied in the past 30 days. This is slightly higher than the national average of 15.0%. As of 2024, about 20% of students experience bullying either online or in person.

Cyberbullying is a longstanding issue, not just in Texas but globally. For decades, kids in Texas and around the United States have faced bullying from their peers at school. While it’s often said that school bullies may act out due to personal problems or unhappiness, it doesn’t diminish the impact on the victims. Enduring meanness at school is a common and harsh reality for many.

Cyberbullying is when someone uses the internet or electronic devices to hurt, threaten, or embarrass another person. It includes actions like sending mean messages, spreading rumors online, or posting hurtful comments on social media.

Now, the question arises: Are school bullies in Texas more severe than those in other states? Does Texas state have any laws prohibiting cyberbullying and are these laws really effective? Let’s discuss the laws against cyberbullying in Texas as of 2024. These are the laws that protect Texas children and school-going kids from cyberbullying and other harassment as bullying is prohibited in the state.

David’s Law (Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code § 52.002): Seeking Protection Against Cyberbullying

If a minor in Texas falls victim to cyberbullying, David’s Law empowers them to seek help. They can request a temporary restraining order or injunction against the cyberbully. The court has the authority to command the cyberbully to stop their harmful actions, and the bully’s parents may be required to take reasonable steps to halt the bullying.

Breaking a court order under David’s Law is a serious offense, leading to potential fines or even jail time. The law expands the definition of bullying to include a single significant act or a pattern of acts that exploit a power imbalance. This involves physical harm, property damage, or causing a student to fear harm. Additionally, it covers actions creating an intimidating, threatening, or abusive educational environment, disrupting the educational process, or infringing on a victim’s rights at school (Tex. Educ. Code § 37.0832(a)(1)).

Key Measures under David’s Law:

  1. Reporting Assault and Harassment: Principals can report criminal assault or harassment by repeated electronic communication to law enforcement after an investigation, with immunity from liability.
  2. Early Parent Notification: Schools must notify the parent of a bullied student within three business days of a report, and the parent of the alleged bully in a reasonable time.
  3. Anonymous Reporting: School boards must adopt policies allowing students to anonymously report bullying incidents.
  4. Disciplinary Actions: Serious bullying and cyberbullying can result in expulsion or placement in a disciplinary alternative education program (DAEP).
  5. Injunctive Relief: Victims of cyberbullying or their parents can seek injunctive relief against the perpetrator or their parent, with a lower legal burden.
  6. Criminal Penalties: David’s Law increases criminal penalties, including jail time and higher fines, for repeated electronic harassment or violating a cyberbullying injunction.
  7. Training, Prevention, and Mental Health Support: School districts must establish policies for preventing and mediating bullying incidents, emphasizing school climate and healthy relationships. School counselors play a crucial role in addressing conflicts impartially.

Harassment by Electronic Communication (Texas Penal Code § 42.07(a)(7)): Combating Digital Harassment

In Texas, it’s a crime to send repetitive electronic messages with the intent to harass, annoy, alarm, abuse, torment, embarrass, or offend another person, as per the Harassment by Electronic Communication law (Texas Penal Code § 42.07(a)(7)).

Key Points:

  • Type of Offense: The first offense is a Class C misdemeanor, with a fine of up to $2,000. Subsequent offenses are Class A misdemeanors, punishable by a fine of up to $4,000 and up to one year in jail.
  • Actions Covered: The law encompasses various actions, such as making obscene comments, threatening bodily harm, conveying false reports likely to cause alarm, making repeated anonymous phone calls, or sending harassing electronic communications.
  • Definition of Electronic Communication: Electronic communication includes messages through email, instant messaging, phone calls, social media, and other internet-based tools. It also covers communication to pagers.
  • Escalated Penalties: The offense becomes a Class A misdemeanor if committed against a child under 18 with the intent of causing harm or suicide. It also escalates if the actor has a prior conviction under this law or has violated a restraining order.
  • Protection for Children: If the offense is committed against a child with the intent of causing serious harm or suicide, or if the actor violates a restraining order, it is treated more severely.
  • Definition of “Obscene”: The law defines “obscene” as containing offensive descriptions or solicitations related to sexual acts or excretory functions.
  • Legal Consequences: Harassment by Electronic Communication can lead to Class B or Class A misdemeanor charges, depending on previous convictions or the severity of the offense.

Texas Penal Code – PENAL § 33.07: Online Impersonation – Protecting Against Digital Deception

In Texas, the Online Impersonation law (PENAL § 33.07) guards against the deceptive use of someone’s identity on the internet. Here’s a breakdown in simple terms:

Offenses and Intent:

  • Creating False Web Presence: It’s illegal to create a web page on a social networking site or other internet platform using someone else’s name or identity without their consent, with the intent to harm, defraud, intimidate, or threaten (Felony of the third degree).
  • Deceptive Communications: Sending electronic messages that reference someone’s identifying information, without their consent and with the intent to cause harm or fraud, is also prohibited (Class A misdemeanor). If done with the intent to solicit an emergency response, it becomes a felony of the third degree.

Legal Consequences:

  • Severity of Offenses: Creating a false web presence is a felony of the third degree, while deceptive communications are a Class A misdemeanor, except when intending to solicit an emergency response, which escalates it to a felony.
  • Prosecution Options: If the same conduct violates other laws, the actor can be prosecuted under this section, the other law, or both.

Defenses and Exceptions:

  • Entity and Employee Protections: Entities like social networking sites, internet service providers, and telecommunications providers are protected from prosecution under this law. Employees of these entities are also shielded if their actions are taken in their official capacity.

Definitions:

  • Commercial Social Networking Site: Any website allowing registered users to establish personal relationships through direct communication or the creation of web pages or profiles. It excludes email and message board programs.
  • Identifying Information: Information as defined by Section 32.51.

Texas Penal Code – PENAL § 42.072: Stalking – Protecting Against Persistent Harassment

In Texas, the Stalking law (PENAL § 42.072) addresses persistent and threatening conduct directed at an individual. Here’s a straightforward overview:

Offenses and Intent:

  • Repetitive Harassment: Committing an offense under Section 42.07 on more than one occasion, or engaging in conduct known to be threatening, harmful, or offensive to the other person, their family, or someone in a dating relationship (Felony of the third degree).

Actions Covered:

  • Fear and Emotional Distress: Conduct causing fear of bodily harm, death, or property offenses. The victim or their family may feel harassed, annoyed, alarmed, abused, tormented, embarrassed, or offended.

Severity and Repeat Offenses:

  • Felony Degrees: Stalking is a felony of the third degree. If the actor has a prior conviction for stalking or a similar offense under other laws, it becomes a felony of the second degree.

Legal Consequences:

  • Escalated Penalties: Repeat offenders face harsher penalties, including a higher felony degree for subsequent convictions.

Interpretation of Conduct:

  • Same Scheme or Course of Conduct: Different types of conduct, if repeated, may be considered part of the same scheme or course of conduct.

Definitions:

  • Relationships: “Dating relationship,” “family,” “household,” and “member of a household” follow definitions in Chapter 71, Family Code.
  • Property Inclusion: “Property” includes pets, companion animals, or assistance animals, as defined by Section 121.002, Human Resources Code.

Texas Education Code Section 37.0832 – Bullying Prevention Policies and Procedures

In this section, bullying and cyberbullying are defined. The policy applies to bullying on or off school property, including cyberbullying. Key points include:

  1. Policy Elements:
    • Prohibits bullying and cyberbullying.
    • Addresses incidents that interfere with educational opportunities or disrupt school activities.
    • Prohibits retaliation against those reporting bullying.
    • Establishes procedures for timely notice to parents, actions for students to seek assistance, counseling options, and anonymous reporting.
    • Ensures no disciplinary measures are imposed on victims using reasonable self-defense.
    • Requires compliance with federal laws, including the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
  2. Minimum Standards by TEA:
    • Texas Education Agency (TEA) adopts minimum standards for district policies.
    • Emphasizes bullying prevention, healthy relationships, and student awareness.
    • Requires campuses to establish committees focusing on prevention and wellness initiatives.
    • Mandates periodic grade-level instruction on building relationships and preventing bullying, including cyberbullying.
    • Promotes student reporting through awareness campaigns and anonymous reporting options.
    • Collects annual student survey data on bullying and requires districts to develop action plans based on survey results.
    • Directs districts to create a rubric or checklist to assess incidents and guide responses.
  3. Policy Inclusion:
    • Policy and procedures must be included in annual student and employee handbooks.
    • Must be part of the district improvement plan.
  4. Reporting Procedures:
    • Procedures for reporting bullying must be posted on the district’s website to the extent practicable.

Texas Education Code Chapter 37, Section 37.217 – Community Education on Internet Safety

  • Mandates school districts to provide community education on Internet safety, emphasizing the dangers of cyberbullying.

Texas Education Code Chapter 37, Section 37.218 – Programs on Dangers of Sharing Visual Material Depicting Minor Engaged in Sexual Conduct

  • Requires school districts to implement programs educating students on the dangers of sharing visual material depicting a minor engaged in sexual conduct.

Texas Education Code Chapter 25, Section 25.0342 – Transfer of Students Involved in Bullying

  • Allows for the transfer of students who are victims of bullying or who have engaged in bullying, including cyberbullying involving the sharing of visual material depicting a minor engaged in sexual conduct. The board of trustees has discretion in transferring the involved students to another classroom or campus, following specific guidelines.

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Olivia Mercie. (2023, November 26). Cyberbullying Laws in Texas 2024. EssayHelper.me. Retrieved from https://essayhelper.me/blog/cyberbullying-laws-in-texas/

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