Under New Law, Bully Suspects Could Have to Hand Over Social Media Passwords

The new state legislation went into effect Jan. 1

A new Illinois law prohibiting cyber bullying and social media harassment at schools now means that administrators can require access to a student's social media account if they are suspected of cyber bullying.

The new state legislation went into effect Jan. 1 and expands the type of bullying prohibited in schools to include cyber bullying, making harassment on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media and digital sites prohibited, even if it takes place off school grounds.

The new law also requires schools to notify parents about their policies surrounding bullying, a move that caused a stir after some schools said they can require access to a students' account if they have "reasonable cause to believe that a student's account on a social networking website contains evidence that a student has violated a school disciplinary rule or procedure."

Triad Community Unit School District No. 2 sent a letter to parents saying the new law "requires school authorities to notify you that your child may be asked to provide his or her password for these accounts to school officials in certain circumstances."

The notice mirrors one posted by the Illinois Principals Association.

While the new law does not explicitly state that school officials can take such measures, a previous statute that went into effect in Illinois called the Right to Privacy in the School Setting Act does.

Triad clarified in a press release that because cyber bullying will now be considered a violation of school code, it now falls under the Right to Privacy in the School Setting Act, giving officials permission to require or request a students' password should school authorities have reasonable cause to believe the student violated that school rule.

Triad said it has not had an instance when its administrators felt the need to request passwords for an account, but said officials "can anticipate situations where we might need to see a social networking site."

"If there is a pervasive bullying issue that needs to be stopped to avoid harm to a student or group of students or a significant disruption to the school environment, we may need to request a password to investigate that issue," the school said in a release. "The district understands student privacy interests as well and will not haphazardly request social media passwords unless there is a need and will certainly involve parents through the process."

Editor's Note: This report has been updated to better clarify how the new law impacts students and their right to privacy.

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