New York's Cyber-Bullying Law Struck Down

The National School Climate Center (NSCC) applauds the New York Court of Appeals' July 1 decision to strike down an Albany County law that criminalizes cyber-bullying. This past May, NSCC co-authored and signedan amici curiae brief arguing that criminalizing students is a failed method for addressing the problem of cyber-bullying and that improving school climate and using restorative practices are better alternatives. 

Albany County's (now defunct) law made it a criminal offense to engage in electronic communication intended to "harass, annoy, threaten...or otherwise inflict significant emotional harm on another person." In yesterday's ruling, the court determined that this standard is too broad and violates the First Amendment.


The court's opinion supports the sentiments set forth in the amici curiae brief filed by NSCC and several other organizations. Referencing a vast array of psychological and legal research, the brief urged the court to consider the multitude of problems that result from treating students who bully as criminals. Doing so can reinforce and perpetuate the school-to-prison pipeline by putting "bullies" on the fast track to school dropout and incarceration and it disproportionately targets students of color, students with disabilities, and LGBT students. Moreover, criminalizing cyber-bullying does nothing to get at the root cause of the bullying; it fails to teach those who bully why their behavior was harmful or how to change it.


It is NSCC's position, as set forth in the brief, that instead of criminalization, policies and practices should adopt the more effective bullying prevention techniques of school climate reform and restorative practices that focus on "learning and healing" rather than "punishment and blame." In short, creating safe and supportive school climates will, to a large extent, prevent the need for punishment by decreasing incidence of cyber-bullying before they occur.


The court's ruling implicates more than First Amendment issues and extends beyond Albany County. This decision provides every county, district, and state with an important opportunity to rethink the ways they address bullying. It is NSCC's sincere hope that this case will serve to remind all legislatures that criminalizing cyber-bullying is not the answer;

there are better ways of preventing this destructive behavior from occurring.
Improving a school's climate and responding to cyber-bullying (and indeed, all forms of bullying) through restorative practices are proven and effective techniques for ensuring that all students feel safe and supported in school and are given the opportunity to grow and thrive.


NSCC is one of the nation's leading centers in school climate reform and social, emotional, and civic education. For more than a decade NSCC has worked together with the entire academic community-teacher, staff, school-based mental health professionals, students and parents-to improve a climate for learning. We help translate research into practice by establishing meaningful and relevant guidelines, programs and services that support a model for whole school improvement with a focus on school climate. Our goal is to promote a positive and sustained school climate: a safe, supportive, environment that nurtures social and emotional, ethical, and academic skills. For more information, please visit our website at: and view our publications at:


To view the amici curiae brief, please visit:   



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