Law enforcement hopes new cyberbullying law will send message to students

by: Tenikka Smith Updated:

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Eyewitness News is looking into the impact of a new North Carolina law that protects teachers from being bullied by students online.

Gaston County Police Captain Bill Melton said, "In a young mind some of the things placed on these websites are venting or being upset or things that are inappropriate."

Melton said that's why his school resource officers stress to students there can be consequences to what they put into cyberspace. "You could wind up in trouble very quickly," he said.

In March, Gaston County Police launched an investigation after officers were tipped off about a student tweeting about killing his biology teacher. In that case, police determined the threat had no merit and did not file charges.

But the case is an example of something that could land students in North Carolina on the wrong side of the law.

Judy Kidd, president of the Charlotte-based Classroom Teachers Association, lobbied for teachers to be protected against student bullying. It is now included in the state's School Violence Protection Law of 2012.

Eyewitness News spoke with Kidd by phone and she gave two examples in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools where a sixth grader sent sexually explicit emails about a teacher to students as well as a case where a student falsely posted on Facebook that she had been groped by an ROTC instructor while being fitted for a uniform.

Under the new state law students could be convicted of a misdemeanor and face jail time, fines or probation if they build fake profiles of school employees, post real or fake images of them, make true or false statements to provoke or harass them, and a number of other things.

Melton said, "There are parameters in cyberspace that have to do with bullying criminal intent  harassment so it's even more important now to look at this very seriously."

Some civil liberties groups are against the law and said it may infringe on a student's right to free speech.