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Zoom Online Learning, Cyberbullying & Hostile Education Environment

Hostile Educational Environment, School Suspension and School Bullying are regularly handled by the Law Offices of Cory H. Morris, representing students and parents of students, but nearly everyone is adjusting to compulsory education going from school classroom to cyberspace. School officials cannot claim ignorance to harassment, discrimination and bullying simply because it is not happening at the school anymore or never happened at the physical schoolhouse.

From emojis to gun gestures, school administrators know that images can convey physical threats and the images in this case certainly conveyed threats of physical harm. In Virginia v. Black, 538 U.S. 343 (2003), an appeal stemming from cross burning by by Ku Klux Klan “Klan” members, Justice Clarence Thomas stated in dissent, “cross burning subjects its targets…to extreme emotional distress, and is virtually never viewed merely as ‘unwanted communication,’ but rather, as a physical threat.” Mr. Justice Thomas reminds us that every African American knows upon seeing images of white-sheeted Ku Klux Klan members, Adolph Hitler and a Noose that their life is being threatened because they are black.

While schools have gone from in person to online for the duration of this school year, we live in an age where Klan members no longer need wood, matches and gasoline to state their message of hate in front of someone’s home. Hostile Education Environment, bullying and hate related speech, unfortunately, still exists. Now all the student/bully has to do is click “send.” In the age of COVID19, it seems that school-age children will primarily interact through online and internet means.

Messages of hate, vandalism and reports of “Zoom-Bombing” have resulted in warnings from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, school suspensions and criminal prosecutions. Law enforcement agencies across the country are trying to adapt and respond to reports of uninvited guests on video conferencing platforms who make threats, interject racist, anti-gay or anti-Semitic messages, or show pornographic images. In the absence of the physical classroom, we must start to evaluate these attacks with 2020 vision.

School-aged children mandated to participate in online courses must be afforded constitutional protections. “[N]either the Fourteenth Amendment nor the Bill of Rights is for adults alone.”[1] “They are possessed of fundamental rights which the State must respect, just as they themselves must respect their obligations to the State.”[2] Recently, an appeals court had no trouble finding that “Racial slurs, swastikas and other offensive language spray-painted on a Maryland high school campus are not shielded from hate-crime prosecution under the First Amendment.”[3] Where property damage is involved, it seems that there was no difficulty upholding a criminal conviction.

We should ask whether due process still protects the bodily integrity of a child[4] if courses are exclusively online? Certainly, as schools require mandatory online education, we must evaluate what occurs when the bully moves from using a schoolbook to a Chromebook as the weapon of choice.[5] As we continue to work with 21st Century problems perhaps it is time we address some of the limitations[6] of the Civil Rights Act and start to recognize that the due process rights of a child include the freedom from fear and bodily integrity in not just one’s body but in one’s mind.

Basic minimum education is a fundamental right[7] that we must safeguard as the new normal appears to be online education in 2020.[8]

School Suspension, Hostile Educational Environment, Criminal Defense, Accidents, Injury and Accountability:

Cory H. Morris, Esq. New York and Florida, Injury, Addiction, Accident, Call the Law Offices of Cory H. Morris, 631-450-2515 (NYS) (954) 998-2918 (FLA)

[1]In re Gault, 387 U.S. 1, 13, 87 S.Ct. 1428, 1436, 18 L.Ed.2d 527 (1967).

[2]Tinker v. Des Moines Indep. Cmty. Sch. Dist., 393 U.S. 503, 511, 89 S.Ct. 733, 739, 21 L.Ed.2d 731 (1969).

[3] [4] See Ingraham v. Wright, 430 U.S. 651, 97 S. Ct. 1401, 51 L. Ed. 2d 711 (1977).

[5] See Jiles, K. L. (2017), Trigger Fingers Turn to Twitter Fingers: The Evolution of the Tinker Standard and its Impact on Cyberbullying amongst Adolescents, Howard LJ, 61, 641. [6] See Suski, E. (2019), The School Civil Rights Vacuum, UCLA L. Rev., 66, 720.

[7] See, e.g., Gary B. v. Whitmer, No. 18-1855 (6th Cir. Apr. 23, 2020).

[8] Cathy Li & Farah Lalani, The COVID-19 pandemic has changed education forever. This is how , World Economic Forum (April 29, 2019),


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